Dylan Thomas’ Early Prose: A Study in Creative Mythology, 1970
Archetypal Patterns in Women’s Fiction, 1981 (with Barbara White, Andrea Loewenstein, and Mary Wyer)
Dancing with Goddesses: Archetypes, Poetry, and Empowerment, 1994
Doris Lessing: Critical Studies, 1973 (with L. S. Dembo)
Professor Annis Vilas Pratt is a mover and shaker in women’s rights and women’s literature through her groundbreaking writings on mythology and archetypes in women’s fiction, her personal life example, and her continual pursuit of civil rights. Intrigued by Sigmund Freud’s and Carl Jung’s psychologies and William Blake’s and Joseph Campbell’s theories of myth and symbol, Pratt wrote Dylan Thomas’ Early Prose. In it, she delves into how writer Dylan Thomas’s symbolic and narrative method might have been influenced by contemporary psychology and universal myths and symbols. Her definition of myth and archetype in women’s novels and poetry in Archetypal Patterns in Women’s Fictionand Dancing with Goddesses set the bar for a uniquely feminine mythology and launched further research into a collective women’s psyche.
Pratt received her undergraduate degree from the all-women Smith College and her Ph.D. from Columbia University. She had the unique experience of being a white woman teaching at all-black Spelman College, part of Atlanta University, during the era of the Civil Rights movement. In 1960 she married Henry Pratt and moved to Detroit. In 1994 she dedicated Dancing with Goddesses to Henry, her “companion on our great adventure into the darkest forests.” Annis and Henry were interviewed in Time magazine in 1972 as examples of a successful, feminist marriage. They raised daughters Faith (Pratt) Hopp and Lorien Y. Pratt, Lorien named after a forest in one of Annis’s favorite literary works, The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien. Henry Pratt died in 2000 from cancer.
When teaching at Spelman College in the 1960’s, Pratt began to apply her theories of a separate women’s consciousness to women writers of the preceding three hundred years. Expanding her research from goddesses such as Medusa and Artemis to myths and religions of pre-Christian Wales, she asks whether the author consciously or unconsciously chooses a symbol from an androgynous, universal consciousness or whether, in a female psyche, women write from a separate, women’s collective unconscious. She asserts that masculine myth paradigms do not necessarily apply to literature by women, but that women’s literature is influenced by a distinctive set of archetypes. Having received a grant from the Canadian embassy to include a significant sample of Canadian poems along with British and American samples in her research, Pratt discovered that the archetype of the bear is different in the Canadian landscape and writings of the native people’s poetry from its symbolism in American poems. She includes chapters titled “Medusa in Canada,” “Romancing the Stone,” “Archetypal Patterns in Native American Poetry,” and “Bear” in Dancing with Goddesses. Pratt concludes that archetypal patterns in women’s fiction constitute signals from a buried feminine tradition that conflict with cultural norms and influence narrative structures [the woman author] cannot adapt material from culture but must delve into a region whose patterns are less likely to conform to socially available myths, religions, and rituals . . . full of potential for celebration and growth, but also . . . for explosion.
constitute signals from a buried feminine tradition that conflict with cultural norms and influence narrative structures [the woman author] cannot adapt material from culture but must delve into a region whose patterns are less likely to conform to socially available myths, religions, and rituals . . . full of potential for celebration and growth, but also . . . for explosion.
Pratt retired from teaching at fifty-four but continues to write and mentor. She has an impressive legacy. While in the South, she founded the first Atlanta chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). During her teaching career, she gave up lecturing and honed a successful method of classroom discussion to help students think for themselves, which she delineates in an article for Women’s Studies Quarterly (WSQ) titled “Then and Now: My Pedagogical Bequest.” Having overcome dyslexia, she understands different learning processes. At the University of Wisconsin she nursed into being the Women in Literature Ph.D. Program and is one of the many founding mothers of women’s studies there. Recovered from cancer, Pratt edits The Strategist (tips for junior women faculty) and Simple Acts: Practical Tips for Voluntary Simplicity. She coordinates the Academic Discrimination Advisory Board of the National Women’s Studies Association. Pratt’s unpublished works include the ecofeminist fantasy trilogy The Marshlanders and a humorous memoir, “The Peripatetic Papers: The Travel Diaries of a Commuting Professor.” Ever the activist, she is involved with civil rights and public transportation issues in Detroit.