A heart-stop moment in early September. The New York Times published the obituary of photographer Lida Moser. In 1996, Director Jan Freeman had the first Northampton, MA, reading for the new edition of The Life of Poetry by Muriel Rukeyser. After the event in Neilson Library at Smith College, a woman in her seventies came up to Jan and said she'd known Muriel in NYC and had a photo of her that she wanted to show her. The woman, photographer Lida Moser, was moving away that week, and asked Jan to visit the next day. Among stacks of boxes in the Elm Street home was a portrait of Muriel Rukeyser that captured her young, beautiful, open face. Lida Moser was broke and she wanted to sell the photo. Jan was broke, but luckily, bought it. Lida wanted Jan and Paris Press to have the portrait. She was so grateful that the Press had published Rukeyser and The Life of Poetry. Lida was overwhelmed with packing, and she couldn't believe that she'd taken the time to attend the reading. Then she couldn't wait to show Jan the portrait she'd taken of Muriel thirty years earlier.
That evening, Jan propped the portrait of Muriel Rukeyser on a top shelf, overlooking the Paris Press office. It's been there ever since. Jan assumed Lida died many years ago. Just last year, Paris Press began using the photograph on many of the programs the Press created to celebrate Muriel Rukeyser's 100th birthday. It is such a beautiful, loving image of Muriel Rukeyser, and brings to mind Anne Sexton's famous remark: "Muriel, mother of us all."
Rest in peace, Lida Moser. How fortunate that Jan's path crossed with Lida's during Lida's last days in Northampton, during the first days of Paris Press's raison d'être — the publication of The Life of Poetry — and the beginning of Jan's life as a publisher.
For more information about Lida Moser, click here.
photo of Muriel Rukeyser by Lida Moser (c) Jan Freeman