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Shakespeare's Sisters

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"It would have been impossible, completely and entirely, for any woman to have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare," Virginia Woolf claimed in her 1929 literary call-to-arms, "A Room of One's Own." In fact, if Shakespeare had had a talented sister, she would have worked too hard, married early and died young, without having written a word. Despite the fact that great and complicated female characters--Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Portia--pervaded the bard's plays, circumstance would never allow such a woman to exist off the page, a writer like her brother, a creator of worlds. Yet in the early years of the 20th century, the feminist author saw a few rays of hope for women writers, and she enjoined them fiercely to change the course of history. "The opportunity will come," she wrote, "and the dead poet who was Shakespeare's sister will put on the body she has so often laid down."

Among those today putting on that body are three women writers from the Triangle, each with a book on the verge of coming out this year. In this issue we feature their original work, starting with a short-short by June Spence, a Raleigh native who has published one award-winning book of stories and has a novel on the way. Pittsboro author Rosanne Coggeshall follows with poems from Fire or Fire, her first volume in two decades, of which Annie Dillard has already written, "Some of these poems are absolutely stunning monuments. They are masterpieces." And topping off the trio is Pamela Duncan, a first-time novelist from Graham whose saga Moon Women captures a small-town Carolina both familiar and endangered by our rapidly changing culture.

"Great poets do not die," Woolf explained at the end of her argument. "They are continuing presences. They only need the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh." Spence, Coggeshall, Duncan and many other contemporary women have had the talent and good fortune to find that opportunity. Finally, they walk among us, these sisters of Shakespeare, bringing to life their lives.

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