Sally Kempton, once a rising star in New York journalism and a fierce exponent of radical feminism but who later turned to a life of Eastern asceticism and spiritual practice, died Monday at her home in Carmel, California. Went. Was 80 years old.
Her brother David Kempton said the cause was heart failure, adding that she had been suffering from chronic lung disease.
Ms. Kempton’s literary pedigree was impeccable. Her father was Murray Kempton, the scholarly and sharp newspaper columnist and scion of New York journalism, whom she joined in the late 1960s as a staff writer for The Village Voice and a contributor to The New York Times. She was a quick and talented reporter – although she sometimes felt that she had not properly earned her place as a reporter, largely thanks to her father’s reputation.
He wrote radical articles about New Age trends such as astrology: “Somebody believes in marijuana and Bob Dylan,” he wrote in The Times in 1969, and “Astrology is part of an environment that includes these things and others. It’s one of the ways we talk to our friends.” He profiled rock stars such as Frank Zappa and reviewed books for The Times.
She and a friend, the writer Susan Brownmiller, joined a group called the New York Radical Feminists, and in the spring of 1970 participated in a sit-in at the offices of the Ladies’ Home Journal to protest editorial content that she believed Said was derogatory to women. That same month, he and Ms. Brownmiller Was invited on “The Dick Cavett Show” representing what was then called the women’s liberation movement; The two met with Playboy magazine publisher Hugh Hefner, who was also a guest, as well as rock singer Grace Slick (who didn’t entirely agree with the feminist agenda).
But what made Ms. Kempton famous for a minute in New York City was that explosive essay Called “Cutting Loose” in the July 1970 issue of Esquire magazine, she took aim at her involvement with her father, her husband, and the regressive gender roles of the era.
The basic point of the essay was that she was designed to be a certain kind of bright but obedient helpmate, and she was angry at herself for not succeeding. Her father, she wrote, considered women incapable of serious thought and was skilled in the art of putting women down; Their own relationship, he said, was like that of an 18th-century count and his precocious daughter, “in that she grows up to be the perfect female companion, replicating him so subtly that it is impossible to convey her thoughts and feelings, so their coincides with, are not original.”
She described her husband, filmmaker Harrison Starrwho was 13 years her senior, as “a male supremacist in the style of Norman Mailer” who humiliated her and drove her to such frustration that she imagined smashing her head with a frying pan.
“It is hard to fight an enemy,” he concluded, “who has outposts in his mind.”
The fragment fell like a cluster bomb. His marriage did not last. His relationship with his father deteriorated. Women swallowed it, recognizing themselves in her fiery prose. For a certain generation, it is still the touchstone of feminist performance. Years later, Susan Cheever, writing in The Times, called it a “scream of marital rage”.
Four years after the Esquire article was published, Ms. Kempton essentially disappeared to follow an Indian mystic named Swami Muktananda, otherwise known as Baba, to lead the spiritual practice known as Siddha Yoga. He was a proponent of exercise. Baba was touring America in the 1970s, gathering hundreds and then thousands of devotees from chattering classrooms – including at one point half of Hollywood.
By 1982, Ms. Kempton had taken vows of chastity and poverty to live as a monk in Baba’s ashrams, first in India and then in a former Borscht Belt hotel in the Catskills. They named him Swami Durgananda, and he donned the traditional orange robes of a Hindu monk.
After he was appointed, as he told author Sarah Davidson, who profiled Ms Kempton in 2001She met classmate Sarah Lawrence, who then wrote in the alumni newspaper, “Saw Sally Kempton, ’64, who is now married to an Indian man and is Mrs. Durgananda.”
As The Oakland Tribune reported in 1983, “Sally Kempton, who wrote about sexual rage in Esquire, no longer exists.”
Sally Kempton was born in Manhattan on January 15, 1943, and grew up in Princeton, NJ, the eldest of five children. His mother, Mina (Bluthenthal) Kempton, was a social worker; When Sally was in college, she and Mr. Kempton divorced.
She attended Sarah Lawrence rather than Barnard, she wrote in her Esquire essay, because her boyfriend at the time thought it was a more “feminine” institution. There, he co-edited a magazine parody called The Establishment. Right after graduation he was hired by The Village Voice and began writing songs about “drugs and hippies”, which, as he said, were mostly fabrications because he didn’t know what he was talking about. Was doing (His writings belied that claim.)
She later recalled that she had her first pleasurable experience in her apartment in the West Village, when she was taking psychedelics with a boyfriend and listening to the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple”.
“The complications, the pain, the pain and the mental stuff I was worried about as a downtown New York reporter all melted away and all I could see was love,” she said in a video. on his website, When she told her boyfriend about her new insight, she said, he responded by asking, “Haven’t you ever taken acid before?”
But Ms. Kempton had a transformative experience, and it continued as she began to investigate spiritual practices like yoga and Tibetan Buddhism. Out of curiosity she went to see Baba – everyone was doing it – and, As he wrote in New York magazine in 1976If you are going to make yourself a guru, why not find a good one?
She was immediately drawn to him, he wrote, charmed by his matter-of-fact personality as well as something more powerful, if difficult to define. She had joined his crew long ago. It felt like running away from the circus, he said.
His friends were horrified. “But you’ve always been so ambitious,” said one. “I’m still ambitious,” she said. “There’s just a slight change in direction.”
Ms. Kempton spent nearly 30 years with Baba’s organization, known as the SYDA Foundation, for two decades as its owner. Baba died in 1982 after being accused of sexually abusing young women in his ashrams; Since his death, the Foundation has been administered by his successor, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. In 1994, when The New Yorker writer Lis Harris, base checked and wrote an article that referred to the allegations against Baba and questions about his succession, quoting Ms Kempton as saying the allegations were “ridiculous”. Ms. Kempton has never spoken publicly on the issue.
In 2002, she shed her clothes and left the ashram and went to Carmel to teach meditation and spiritual philosophy. She was the author of several books on spiritual practices, including “Meditation for the Love of It: Enjoying Your Own Deepest Experience” (2011), with an introduction by Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray Love” fame.
Besides her brother David, Ms Kempton is survived by two other brothers, Arthur and Christopher. Another brother, James Murray Kempton Jr., known as Mike, was killed in a car accident in 1971 with his wife, Jean Goldschmidt Kempton, a college friend of Sally’s.
Ms Kempton’s father, after the initial shock, was supportive of her new life. He was a spiritual man himself, practicing Episcopalian, but modest about it. “I just go for the music,” he liked to tell people.
Murray Kempton, who died in 1997, visited the ashram and met Baba several times, said David Kempton, and respected the ethos and history of the order. He told The Oakland Tribune that he might have worried if his daughter had wanted to become a Druid.
He said, “I think she knows something that I don’t.” “I respect her choice. In fact, I admire the choice Sally made. after all, he Is Master, isn’t it?”