Crawford was born and raised in Indiana, graduated from Northwestern University just north of Chicago and returned there for her master’s in English literature in 1967.
She and her husband, Wallace, moved to the Bitterroot Valley in 1975 and set up the Literature Seminar with the Bitterroot Public Library in 1976.
She gave academically challenging presentations sharing her sharp, insightful and curious mind and her love of literature.
Crawford’s daughter Sunny Stone said that the literature seminar was Marge’s gift to the community.
“As much as it was a gift to the community, it was a gift to my mother,” Stone said. “She loved doing it. It was so much a part of her and she was thrilled she could do it here in Hamilton.”
When Crawford moved to California, she hoped the series could continue.
Shawn Wathen, co-owner of Chapter One Book Store, began leading the series in 1999.
“I was thrilled and humbled that Marjorie asked me to do it and for three years I co-taught with Joni Lodmell, each of us taking three books. Time just flew,” Wathen said, Tuesday. “I’ve been doing this 20-years and that seemed like a shock to me. It seems like a nice round number to end it on. I’ve had a ball but it was time.”
The series reviews six-books per year and Wathen said he put in 20 to 50 hours of research and preparation for each.
“I believe 98% of what I did were works in translation, things that weren’t out in the mainstream, so we were putting a bigger view of the world out in Hamilton, Montana,” Wathen said. “It was great.”
Wathen said the joy was the depth.
“I loved it,” he said. “I loved talking about these books that dealt with issues of some universal nature: memory, history, time, change and our place in the world. I will continue to read books in translation, I will just stop teaching them. It has been a great ride, but it is time to move on. Other journeys await.”
Wathen said Crawford attracted well-read, incredibly intelligent and sophisticated students to the seminar.
“They were incredibly smart women, primarily women because the seminars took place during the day, during working hours,” he said. “They just wanted something like that and those are the people that still attend. Some have moved on others have stepped in. They keep me on my toes, they are wicked-smart. I’m going to miss that.”
Crawford died in 2012 in her home in California. Her family and the Bitterroot Public Library continued to sponsor the free seminars that attracted 12 to 20 students each session.
“There was a connection with Marge that continued and the library was always the place they were held,” Wathen said. “Nansu (Roddy, adult services programming) and Mark (Wetherington, director) have been very supportive. There is some bitter-sweetness to ending it. I’ve broken the news and talked it over with Marge’s daughter and she agreed. It gives the library’s adult programming a new blank slate to start something new.”
The books for the 2019-2020 final series have been selected. The series dates and books for the final season are: Oct. 1 — "Malina" by Ingeborg Achman; Nov. 5 — “Moravian Night" by Peter Handke; Jan. 7 — "Blow-up" by Julio Cortazar; Feb. 4 — "Beyond Babylon" by Igiaba Scego; March 3 — “Flights" by Olga Tokarczuk; and April 7 — "Melville" by Jean Giono.
Wathen said he keeps changing his mind about which is his favorite and is excited about new authors and books that have only recently been printed in English.
“‘Beyond Babylon’ by Igiaba Scego was put into my hands in April and I just got sucked into it. It was published in 2008 in Italian but it was published this spring in English. She is fabulous,” he said. “All of these authors I haven’t taught before, half are written by women and they are all in languages we tend not to speak, and that gives them an interesting take on the world. They always provoke wonder and that is why I like literature in translation so much.”
Classes are held in the meeting room of the Bitterroot Public Library from 9:30–11:30 a.m. Books are available at Chapter One Book Store and the Bitterroot Public Library has a limited number of copies available for checkout.
Downstairs in the Bitterroot Public Library sit two four-drawer file cabinets full of research done by Crawford for each book she presented in the seminar.
“Her research for every single one was so in-depth,” said Nansu Roddy, adult services librarian. “She had articles, all her notes written out, criticism and literary views of art and academic research.”
Roddy said there has been “a whole variety of tears shed.”
“The final season is very sad,” she said. “For some people who have always attended and been a part of Marge’s world, it is ending. This is our library’s final series and it is sad for me as well, but it is time.”
She said the series is ending while the caliber of intellectual critiquing and criticism remains high.
“We’ve been able to maintain the quality with Marge, Joni and Shawn,” Roddy said. “This program has been a very unique program in the state. There has been nothing like it in terms of quality and intellectualism. It is very academic and such a special program for our community.”
It has been free and open thanks to Crawford's children.
“The library will continue to come up with new ideas and new themes but nothing that will replace that program,” Roddy said. “We have a variety of book clubs and we talk about books but this is a lecture series on a more academic level like what a university would provide.”
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