Living on the Margins is a literary anthology of breast cancer with a distinguished list of 18 contributors, all writers--poets, critics, academics, editors, essayists. Their writing, wide-ranging in genre, style, and tone, includes personal narratives, poetry, academic essays, and an interview.

Contributors include Maxine Kumin, Safiya Henderson-Holmes, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Lucille Clifton, Alicia Suskin Ostriker, and Marilyn Hacker. The editor, Hilda Raz, argues that because there hasn't been much literature on breast cancer (there's been a "margin of missing literature," she claims) this collection was brought into being.


Raz sets the collection in motion with the imagery of "margins": margins of silence confine artists living with breast cancer; they've all traveled beyond the margins of the known world, often pushing the margins of acceptable treatment, all of them looking for clean margins around a cancerous site in their breasts; they all live on the margins because of what they've experienced.

Raz is most persuasive when she writes of the healing potential of art. Artists, she claims, repair and reorganize the familiar and the unknown, "seducing," as Linda McCarriston is quoted here, "the reluctant knower with the pleasure, the intellectual thrill, the 'terrible beauty' of the unwanted lesson: into knowing." (xi)

The volume succeeds in giving readers such "lessons." There are many stunning chapters beautifully written, each situated within the unique context of one woman's life. Most deal with the healing power of family and friends; Ostriker's and MonPere McIsaac's chapters do this best.

The book is also full of "good" doctor/"bad" doctor anecdotes. The "bad" include "icy" surgeons, those "more concerned about saving money than about [a patient's] comfort, the doctor "enthroned behind an enormous mahogany desk," the "medico-hero-worship" of so many patients; the "good" include all those who are respectfully forthright and generous with information, who treat women patients as intelligent decision makers in the course of their treatment.

The book is superbly written and well worth reading by anyone who provides care to women with breast cancer or anyone who has it. Some of the chapters, however, stand out as far more difficult than others and belong in more theoretical texts (i.e. Sedgwick's famous "White Glasses" essay). Another problem well worth noting is that these authors represent a very small band of extremely privileged highly educated women whose experience of breast cancer may be very different from the concerns of those who struggle with poverty, a lack of education, and language barriers.



Place Published

New York




Hilda Raz

Page Count