Enid at Smith

by Amanda Golden

I had the pleasure of meeting Enid Epstein Mark while I was studying in the archives of her college friend, Sylvia Plath, at their alma mater, Smith College. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to spend time with Enid and Gene over the past seven years. When we met at Smith, in New York, Philadelphia, or Seattle, Enid generously shared with me her recollections of her time at Smith. As I became more familiar with her work, I also came to admire her focus and accomplishments as a book artist.

In the spring of 2003, the curator of Plath’s manuscripts, Karen V. Kukil, had invited me to curate an exhibition of Plath’s copies of Virginia Woolf’s novels for the Woolf Conference at Smith. Enid and Gene’s ELM Press had printed a broadside for the conference. As I stood beside my exhibit and the Woolf scholars wandered past, Enid and Gene visited. I told Enid that I had come to Smith to research Plath, after writing my thesis on her poetry as an undergraduate at Colgate University. Enid pointed Gene to the cases and repeated to him, “she came to Smith because of Sylvia.” Her statement had such warmth and reminded me that for her Plath had been more than her words. I asked Enid about her teachers and we talked about Elizabeth Drew, with whom Plath read Woolf. When Enid reminded me of her tribute to Plath, About Sylvia (1996), I told her that I had received the book as an undergraduate over interlibrary loan. She laughed to Gene that her limited edition book was circulating over interlibrary loan. What I had actually encountered was a photocopy, circulating in a folder. Throughout the Woolf Conference, I became acquainted with Enid and Gene, who were wonderful company, especially as we were less acquainted with the Woolf conference scene. Enid also contributed her experience as a Smith student to the conference. During the renowned scholar Carolyn Heilbrun’s session, for instance, Enid volunteered details regarding the midcentury teaching of Woolf at Smith.

Returning to Smith in the fall of 2005, I met with Enid and Gene in the Mortimer Rare Book Room to discuss her courses at Smith and she brought her copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. She and Plath had attended Robert Gorham Davis’s Joyce course in the spring of 1953. Comparing the underlined and annotated texts, I was able to distinguish the teacher’s comments from those Enid and Plath added. Enid also brought to my attention her course notebooks in the Smith College Archives. I was immediately impressed with her studious, thorough notes, in careful script. The Joyce course met on Saturday mornings, and she had recounted once bringing Gene to class. Inside the back cover of her Joyce notebook remained a note to him indicating that she would rather be spending time with him than listening to the lecture.

I was not aware of how beautiful the books Enid designed were until she showed me About Sylvia and numerous other volumes when I visited Philadelphia for the MLA in 2006. She subsequently gave a talk at the University of Washington library, which accompanied their exhibition on the ELM Press. Following her fascinating talk, I remained even more impressed with the intellectual sophistication of her work. Combining what she once referred to as word and image, Enid had built a career that many women of her generation did not consider a possibility.

Amanda Golden