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Cruikshank Explores Vitality of Aging through New Literary Anthology

Contact: Peg Cruikshank, 581-1228; George Manlove, 581-3756

ORONO — The title of her newly revised anthology, Fierce with Reality: An Anthology of Literature on Aging, embodies the paradoxes that come with the consideration of aging for Margaret “Peg” Cruikshank, author and lecturer in women’s studies at UMaine.

So does the frustration Cruikshank feels when doctors or others address the 66-year-old skier, hiker and kayaker from Corea, near Gouldsboro, as “young lady.” However innocent, the greeting is categorization all too common and subtly offensive to people who are, indeed, proud of their age.

“What about all my other identities?” asks Cruikshank. “Identifies are like a mobile in relation to one another.”

For millions of older people entering an age of new realities, spirits are high, health is good, and patronizing cliches to raise the spirits of the aging are unnecessary, even “toxic” to a woman’s psyche, says Cruikshank, who holds a master’s degree in gerontology, a doctorate in English and is a faculty associate with the Maine Center on Aging at the university..

Fierce with Reality,

originally published in 1995, is a new collection of essays, short stories, poetry and parables about the aging process as related by those of advancing years contemplating new realities and society’s perceptions of them. It includes the writing of young Asian-American students in Cruikshank’s English language classes from her days teaching at City College of San Francisco. They observed the isolation of many institutionalized elders.

A common perception about older people is disparaging: failing health, depression, stubborn, demented, Cruikshank writes. She hopes Fierce with Reality, published by Nancy Randolph of Just Write Books in Topsham, Maine, begins to dispel those myths. It is a particularly significant book in a state like Maine, with the largest demography of older people than any other state in the nation.

Cruikshank asks readers to consider “the dozens and dozens of interesting people who are vital and enjoy a good quality of life.”

She believes the essay, “Who Says an Older Woman Can’t/Shouldn’t Dance?,” reprinted in Fierce with Reality from author and Spelman College professor Gloria Wade-Gayles’s book Rooted Against the Wind captures the theme of the anthology.

“It’s a powerful piece,” Cruikshank says.

The titles of Cruikshank’s chapters suggest a revision of a common portrayal of an expanding generation being pushed aside by the world’s infatuation with youth, wealth and beauty: “A Kaleidoscope of Images,” “Homage to Grandmothers,” “Strength and Wisdom,” “Aging Is Not for Sissies,” “Growth and Change,” “Defiance & Self-Determination,” “Loss,” “Humor,” “Ageism,” “The Fountain of Youth: Two Asian Versions” and “Reflections.”

Cruikshank sets the tone of the anthology with its title. “Fierce is never a quality you would ever associate with older people, so right here I was trying to break a stereotype,” she says.

Fierce with Reality

includes works by celebrated authors, unknown authors, and men, women and the ethnically diverse. It also includes writers from Maine, including Lisa Asnis of Orono, a nontraditional student pursuing a master’s degree at UMaine.

“I’m trying to raise consciousness about the differences in aging,” Cruikshank says. The experience of aging for the poor is different from the wealthy, she says. It is different for black people, for Native Americans, for Asians and for those from the Middle East. Fierce with Reality provides a sampling of some of those experiences.

Considered appropriate reading for all audiences, including college courses of multiple disciplines, Fierce with Realty can be ordered through local bookstores, including BookMarcs Bookstore & Cafe in Bangor, Borders, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, and Just Write Books (

Cruikshank is the author of several other books, including Learning to be Old: Gender, Culture and Aging and Thomas Babington Macaulay. In addition to teaching women’s studies courses, she also has taught courses on aging and women at City College of San Francisco.

She will present a public reading of Fierce with Reality at 6:30 p.m., April 25 at the Bangor Public Library, and in June, Cruikshank will appear with Anita Hill and Dolores Huerta in an AARP panel discussion on diversity and aging. She also intends to offer a course titled “Women and Aging” at UMaine in the fall.

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