Twenty years after graduating from Brooklyn College, Charlotte Mandel ’77 MA began writing poetry, and “the direction of my life work was transformed,” she says, recalling the events that led to her decision to enroll at Montclair State. “I matriculated at Montclair State for courses that would offer me literary background at the same time that I enrolled in an advanced poetry workshop at the New School for Social Research in New York City. The two fields of creative writing and scholarly study enriched one another.”
During her time at Montclair State, Mandel took classes with Dr. George Petty and Dr. Alyce Miller. “No question that Montclair State was a springboard for my ensuing career,” she says. “My courses with Dr. George Petty in Old English Literature and Chaucer were fascinating for discoveries in rhythm and origins of our English language.”
Dr. Miller’s course in methods of scholarly research taught Mandel how to be a better student. “Her course in methods of scholarly research was invaluable, teaching me hands-on methods of literary study.”
But it was another course that dramatically steered Mandel’s research interests – especially in the work of a poet known as H.D. (Hilda Doolittle). “I immediately felt drawn to the cinematic quality of her language. I chose to work on the topic for my master's thesis, and received a grant from Montclair State Alumni Association to continue the research after graduation.”
Her interest in H.D.’s work continued to enrich her life and challenge her intellectually – in publishing several essays on the role of cinema in the life and work of H.D. “That interest in H.D. studies keeps me in touch with colleagues with whom I've formed lasting friendships.”
After she graduated, Mandel continued to write poetry and began to work as a poetry teacher and taught at Montclair Adult School and at the Wayne YM-YWHA. Eventually she taught at Barnard College Center for Research on Women for several years. One of her particular interests was, and still is, feminist poetry.
“I understood the silence many women had felt,” she says. “In 1981, after my first book was published, I founded the Eileen W. Barnes Award to publish a first book by a woman over 40, by means of a nationwide contest sponsored by the non-profit Saturday Press.” She continued with the contests for ten more years, and then began to focus solely on her own work.
“I've been concerned with voices of women in my poetry. Two other of my books are poem-novellas, feminist revision of biblical figures—The Life of Mary and the Marriages of Jacob. The former was given a stage adaptation at Bill Bace Gallery in New York City; the book is available with an audiocassette of my reading the entire work with musical accompaniment by composer-guitarist David Hauer.”
She continues to write and publish poetry today and maintains a relationship with Montclair State University. In 2013, she donated her personal library of more than 2,000 books to the university. The collection includes some rare H.D. books and is now available to all members of the Montclair State University community in the Sprague Library.
In 2013, she published her eighth book of poetry, Life Work. “The book includes poems having to do with the recent loss of my husband, as well as ekphrastic poems, and poems on natural disasters.” She also read her work at the Montclair Art Museum twice this year.
She urges all current creative writing students to immerse themselves in their craft. “Read poets, through the ages and contemporary, in your native language and in translation. Write in free association without any self-judgment or worry about perfection, honor a natural object by intense attention, honor your own passions, and write what may be fearful.”
To read some of Mandel's work, visit http://charlottemandel.com/