I first started reading Simone de Beauvoir when I lived in London and was
attracted to a table in the London School of Economics bookshop. Beauvoir’s
picture was in the center and several of her books were prominently (and I
thought beautifully and enticingly) displayed around the photo. I bought The
Mandarins, devoured it, and from there started Memoirs of a Dutiful Daugh-
ter and breathlessly read through her four- volume autobiography. I didn’t
think about it at the time, but as I look back now, I suppose her books were
all over the shops that spring of 1986 because she had just died on April 14.
The fifteen months I spent in London were formative for me politically, in-
tellectually, and personally. Encountering Beauvoir that day in the bookstore
made a significant impact on the person I have become.
I have been reading and learning from Beauvoir for over thirty years.
Every time I read and teach her writings, as I age and change and have di-
verse experiences, or in conversations with students, I see something new.
I wanted to write my PhD dissertation (and my first book) on Beauvoir’s
political thought, but at the time I was counseled that it would be more pru-
dent to write on a figure securely in the political theory canon. My idea for
a second book began after revisiting Beauvoir’s autobiographical writings,
and it expanded to include other feminist thinkers and writers. Later, with
my dear friend Patricia Moynagh, I coedited a book of essays on Beauvoir’s
political thinking. But I have always wanted to take the time and space to
say just what it is that I find so compelling about Beauvoir’s unique political
vision, formed in her moment and in conversation with her contemporaries
but still urgent for us today. As I see it, Beauvoir’s writings, read in encounter,
and in and out of context, can open us not only to intimate others but also
to collective transformative projects and to the world. With her we might
embrace freedom and joy whenever and wherever possible while supporting
political struggles that seek to make space for the same for others.
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