In Memoriam: Charlotte Stewart

Charlotte Cathey Stewart, a central figure in the founding of Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, died on 29 March 2014 at the age of 75. Charlotte moved to Tulsa in 1970, having grown up in Nashville, Tennessee, completed her undergraduate studies at Maryville College in Tennessee, and spent the eight years preceding her arrival in Tulsa as Staff Editor and Assistant to the Director at Carnegie Institute’s Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. From 1971 to 1983, she was Associate Director of Academic Publications at the University of Tulsa, and in this position, she oversaw most of the major projects of Academic Publications. From 1971 to 1983 she was Managing Editor of the James Joyce Quarterly, from 1971 to 1979 she was Managing Editor of Nimrod: A Literary Review, and she was the founding Managing Editor of Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature from 1981 to 1983. She designed the original cover of Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, working with Carol Haralson, the graphic designer at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, to create the journal’s first saxifrage logo.

Charlotte left Tulsa for the following two years to earn her Masters in Speech Communication at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. While there she earned a Graduate Teaching Award from the Department of Speech Communication and then a Citation for Excellence in Teaching from the International Communication Association. When she returned to Tulsa in 1985, she became Assistant to the Provost at the University of Tulsa until her retirement in 1998. From her position in the Office of the Provost, she filled many additional roles, including cofounder of the Women’s Studies Program in 1990, Coordinator of the Women’s Studies Program until her retirement, and Coordinator of the Women’s Studies Forum for many years. She spearheaded the University of Tulsa’s application for a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, which was granted in 1989.

Her presence in Tulsa was felt far beyond the bounds of the University, for she was a vibrant and energetic force in the city’s arts and humanities scene. With Francine Ringold, Oklahoma Poet Laureate in 2003 and longtime Editor of Nimrod, she organized a Collaborative Writing Symposium for the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa in 1979. She coordinated and led poetry workshops for the Living Arts of Tulsa. She was Chair of the Literary Arts Committee for the International Mayfest in 1988, 1989, and 1990. In her last year with this community arts festival, she devoted her efforts to opening the performance and reading venues to artists with disabilities. In 1989 she received two well-deserved recognitions for her work: the Pinnacle Award for service to Arts and Humanities, awarded by the Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women, and a Women in Communication/Tulsa World Professional Advancement Grant. A poet, she published a chapbook titled A Home Against Oneself (1983) with Riverrun Press. In 1983 she contributed to the Dictionary of Literary Biography: British Novelists from 1880-1929, and in 1987 she was published in the journal Literature and Performance.

These bare facts, impressive as they are, do not truly capture Charlotte’s life, her impact on those around her, and her influence in advancing feminist community, scholarship, and the arts. Always one to act quietly but influentially while deflecting attention from herself, she did much to establish the Tulsa Center for the Study of Women’s Literature, the institute within which Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature came into existence, and to create a sense of community for Germaine Greer and the graduate students who came to Tulsa to work in the Center. Her importance to the Center is evidenced by the words of others who were present at its founding. Jeslyn Medoff, who was Assistant Editor for the debut issue, wrote the following tribute to Charlotte:

No one could have been kinder to the band of young women who came from Baltimore, Boston, Indiana, Kansas, and many other spots far from Tulsa to study and work with Germaine Greer at the Tulsa Center for the Study of Women’s Literature. “Lotte” was a one-woman welcoming committee. As managing editor of the fledgling Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, then and now our great pride and joy, she taught us so much, particularly those of us who worked as founding editors. In so many ways, we benefited from her generosity and patience. She made us laugh, gave us good advice, invited us to parties, helped us out of scrapes, read us her poems. Everyone who knew her was enriched by her intelligence and warm heart, but those of us who were thoroughly embedded in that world in those heady first years of TSWL are particularly grateful for her presence in our lives. Charlotte Stewart and Germaine Greer were a dynamic duo; it was a gift just to be around them, hoping that some of their magic dust would rub off.

Germaine Greer, founding Editor of Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, wrote of Charlotte:

When I remember Charlotte, I feel her presence like a spell of clear air after turbulence. Nothing was ever too hard; if she was put to inconvenience, she minimised it. She imposed very high moral standards upon herself, but I never heard her judge others. She saw the absurdity around her and forgave it. “Magnanimous” is a mean word but Charlotte was what it means; she was truly large-souled. She used to chuckle when I shrank from being hugged; I’d give a good deal to hear that husky chuckle again.

Several of Charlotte’s colleagues and friends have attested to these central qualities in her: patience, hospitality, generosity, creativity, cleverness, and, most of all, kindness.

It seems fitting to conclude this tribute to a woman of words, a person so crucial to Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, with her own words on loss. “Lost Continent,” a poem from her chapbook, begins with these lines:

Loss laps the shore of this awful
sunlit day, bathes the bare roots
of a single shoreline tree.

All associated with this journal, especially its founding, feel the absence of Charlotte Stewart. This issue of the journal is dedicated with affection and gratitude to her.

 

Portrait of Charlotte Cathey Stewart by Jan Donley, a graduate assistant at the original Tulsa Center for the Study of Women’s Literature

Portrait of Charlotte Cathey Stewart by Jan Donley, a graduate assistant
at the original Tulsa Center for the Study of Women’s Literature

 

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]