Margarita Donnelly lived her life creating, telling, and publishing stories with a passion reflected in her life’s work as the founder and longtime editor of the feminist literary press CALYX. I only had the opportunity to meet her once before she passed away at the age of 72 on Christmas Eve after deciding to forgo future cancer treatments. This one meeting, however, was enough to leave me with a significant impression of this particular force of nature in the literary world. The room was full of women combing through 40 years worth of poems, short stories, and novels, most of which had been chosen and edited by Margarita herself. She could instantly remember and recount the stories behind many of the pieces and didn’t hesitate to fly right into them. Her laughter and joyful spirit filled the room, and it was an amazing thing to witness. As I was leaving, Alicia Bublitz, the director, laughed as she told me that this was a typical meeting for them–lots of laughter, mixed in with some work.
Margarita Donnelly was born in Caracas, Venezuela to American parents. She attended college in the US, where her activist spirit spurred her to help start a radical newspaper in Eugene, Oregon called Women’s Press in 1969. In 1976, after she moved to Corvallis, she and three other women from a local writing group founded CALYX Press through an $800 grant from the Women’s Resource Fund in Portland. The press is famous for publishing emerging voices in women’s writing such as Barbara Kingsolver, Molly Gloss, Julia Alvarez, and Ursula K. Le Guin, to name just a few. They also publish books, including the novel Into the Forest by Jean Haglund, which is now a movie starring Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood, and set to be released sometime in 2015.
Right now, we at Ooligan Press are working with CALYX to create a 40th anniversary anthology due out in the spring of 2016. Keeping in mind the spirit of the woman who helped found the press 40 years ago will hopefully help us craft an anthology worthy of all the work that these women, and especially Margarita, have put into the women’s literary genre.
To read more about this amazing woman, check out a couple of interviews with her at NewPages and Cune Press.