Sally Kempton, once a rising star in the New York journalism world and a fierce advocate of radical feminism, but later converted to an Eastern ascetic life and spiritual practice, died Monday at her home in Carmel, California. was 80.
Her brother, David Kempton, said the cause was heart failure, adding that she suffered from chronic lung disease.
Mrs. Kempton’s literary lineage was impeccable. Her father was Murray Kempton, a scathing intellectual newspaper columnist and a lion of New York journalism, whom she joined in the late 1960s as a writer for The Village Voice and contributor to The New York Times. She was a shrewd and talented reporter – though at times she felt she had not got her position as a journalist right and owed this largely to her father’s reputation.
She wrote arching articles on New Age fads such as astrology: “One believes in marijuana and Bob Dylan,” she noted in The Times in 1969, and “Astrology is part of the atmosphere that includes these and other things; it is one of the ways we talk to our friends.” “. She has profiled rock stars like Frank Zappa and reviewed books for The Times.
She and a friend, writer Susan Braunmiller, joined a group called the New York Radical Feminists, and in the spring of 1970 participated in a sit-in at the Ladies’ Home Journal’s offices to protest its editorial content, which they said had been discredited. It was demeaning to women. In the same month, she and Mrs. Brownmiller They were invited on “The Dick Cavett Show” to represent what was then called the women’s liberation movement; The two had a meeting with Playboy magazine publisher Hugh Hefner, who was also a guest, as well as rock singer Grace Slick (who apparently wasn’t with the feminist agenda).
But what made Mrs. Kimpton famous, for a minute in New York, was a Violent article In the July 1970 issue of Esquire magazine, “Cutting Loose” took aim at her father, her husband, and their complicity in the era’s retrogressive gender roles.
The whole point of the article was that she had been groomed to be a certain kind of brilliant but accommodating assistant, and she would spit furiously at herself for success. She wrote that her father considered women incapable of serious thought and was skilled in the art of demeaning women; Their private relationship, she said, was like that of one in the eighteenth century and his precocious daughter, “in which she grows up to be the perfect female companion, and echoes him so artfully that it is impossible to tell her thoughts and feelings, until they coincide with him, are not original.”
She described her husband as a film producer Harrison Starwho was 13 years her senior, as a “Norman Mailer-style male fanatic” who made her a childish and frustrated her so much she imagined hitting him in the head with a frying pan.
“It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head,” she concluded.
The piece fell like a cluster bomb. Her marriage did not survive. Her relationship with her father suffered. The women gobbled it up, admitting themselves in her angry prose. For a certain generation, it continues to be a benchmark for feminist show. Years later, Susan Sheffer, writing in The Times, called it “my husband’s cry of rage”.
Four years after the Esquire article was published, Ms. Kempton essentially disappeared, following an Indian mystic named Swami Muktananda, also known as Baba, who advocates a spiritual practice known as Siddha Yoga. Papa was touring America in the 1970s and gathered hundreds and then thousands of devotees of gossip classes—including, at one point, apparently half of Hollywood.
By 1982, Mrs. Kempton had taken a vow of chastity and poverty to live as a nun in Baba’s ashram, first in India and then in a former hotel in the Catskills’ Borscht Belt. Dubbed Swami Durgananda, she wore the traditional orange robes of a Hindu monk.
After she was ordained, as she told writer Sarah Davidson, who profiled Mrs. Kempton in 2001She met a classmate at Sarah Lawrence, who then wrote in the alumni newsletter, “Saw Sally Kempton, ’64, now married to an Indian who is Mrs. Durgananda.”
As the Oakland Tribune reported in 1983, “The Sally Kempton who wrote about sexual outrage in Esquire no longer exists.”
Sally Kempton was born on January 15, 1943 in Manhattan and raised in Princeton, New Jersey, the eldest of five children. Her mother, Mina (Plutenthal) Kempton, was a social worker; She and Mr. Kempton divorced when Sally was in college.
She attended Sarah Lawrence instead of Barnard, she writes in her Esquire piece, because her boyfriend at the time thought it was a more “feminine” establishment. There, she co-edited a satirical magazine called The Enterprise. She was hired by The Village Voice right after graduation and began writing articles about, as she put it, “drugs and hippies” which she said were mostly made up because she had no idea what she was doing. (Her writing belied this assertion.)
She later recalls having her first experience of ecstasy, in her West Village apartment, while taking a drug with a friend and listening to the Grateful Dead’s song “Ripple”.
“All the complexities and suffering and pain and mental matters that I was interested in as a journalist in downtown New York just melted away, and all I could see was love,” she said in a video. on its website. When she described her new vision to her boyfriend, she said, he responded with the question, “Have you never taken acid?”
But Mrs. Kimpton had a transformative experience, and she continued her experience as she began to investigate spiritual practices such as yoga and Tibetan Buddhism. I went to see Baba out of curiosity–everyone was doing it–and, As I wrote in 1976 in New York MagazineIf you are going to be a teacher yourself, why not get a good teacher?
She wrote that she was instantly drawn in, charmed by his down-to-earth personality as well as something more powerful, if hard to pin down. And soon she joined his entourage. I felt, she said, like I was running away with the circus.
Her friends were horrified. Someone said: “But you have always been very ambitious.” “I’m still ambitious,” she said. “There was a slight shift in direction.”
Ms. Kempton spent nearly 30 years with Baba’s organization, better known as the SYDA Foundation, for the two decades Swami was in. Baba died in 1982, following accusations that he had sexually abused young women in the ashram. Since his death, the institution has been run by his successor, Gurumai Chidvilasananda. In 1994, when Liz Harris, a writer for The New Yorker, Basically achieved She wrote an article that referred to the accusations against Baba and questions about his succession, and quoted Mrs. Kempton as saying the accusations were “ridiculous”. Mrs. Kempton has not spoken publicly about the affair.
In 2002, she removed her robe and left the ashram, moving to Carmel to teach meditation and spiritual philosophy. She is the author of a number of books on spiritual practices, including Meditating for Her Love: Enjoying Your Deepest Experience (2011), which contains a foreword by Elizabeth Gilbert on her famous Eat, Pray Love.
In addition to her brother David, Lady Kempton is survived by two other brothers, Arthur and Christopher. Another brother, James Murray Kempton Jr., better known as Mike, was killed in a car accident with his wife, Jean Goldschmidt Kempton, a college friend of Sally’s, in 1971.
Mrs. Kempton’s father, after his initial shock, is supportive of her new life. He himself was a spiritual man, a practicing Episcopalian, but modest about it. He liked to tell people, “I just go for the music.”
David Kempton, who died in 1997, said that Murray Kempton, who died in 1997, visited the ashram and met Baba several times, and had respect for the spirit and history of the congregation. He told the Oakland Tribune that if his daughter wanted to be a priest, he might be worried.
“I suppose she knows something I don’t,” he said. “I respect her choice. In fact, I admire Sally’s choice. After all, she is He is Swami, right? “