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Thursday, September 14, 2023

Sally Kempton, Rising Star Journalist Turned Swami, Dies at 80

Sally Kempton, who was as soon as a rising star within the New York journalism world and a fierce exponent of radical feminism, however who later pivoted to a lifetime of Japanese asceticism and non secular apply, died on Monday at her residence in Carmel, Calif. She was 80.

Her brother David Kempton stated the trigger was coronary heart failure, including that she had suffered from a continual lung situation.

Ms. Kempton’s literary pedigree was impeccable. Her father was Murray Kempton, the erudite and acerbic newspaper columnist and a lion of New York journalism, the ranks of which she joined within the late Nineteen Sixties as a employees author for The Village Voice and a contributor to The New York Instances. She was a pointy and gifted reporter — though she typically felt she hadn’t correctly earned her place as a journalist and owed it largely to her father’s repute.

She wrote arch items about New Age fads like astrology: “One believes in marijuana and Bob Dylan,” she famous in The Instances in 1969, and “astrology is a part of an environment which incorporates this stuff and others; it is among the methods we converse to our buddies.” She profiled rock stars like Frank Zappa and reviewed books for The Instances.

She and a pal, the writer Susan Brownmiller, joined a bunch referred to as the New York Radical Feminists, and within the spring of 1970 they participated in a sit-in on the workplaces of Girls’ Residence Journal to protest its editorial content material, which they stated was demeaning to ladies. That very same month, she and Ms. Brownmiller have been invited on “The Dick Cavett Present” to symbolize what was then referred to as the ladies’s liberation motion; the 2 had a set-to with Hugh Hefner, the writer of Playboy journal, who was additionally a visitor, as was the rock singer Grace Slick (who didn’t appear completely on board with the feminist agenda).

However what made Ms. Kempton well-known, for a New York minute, was a blistering essay within the July 1970 challenge of Esquire journal referred to as “Slicing Free,” wherein she took purpose at her father, her husband and her personal complicity within the regressive gender roles of the period.

The essential level of the essay was that she had been groomed to be a sure sort of vibrant however compliant helpmeet, and he or she was spitting mad at herself for succeeding. Her father, she wrote, thought-about ladies to be incapable of great thought and was expert within the artwork of placing ladies down; their very own relationship, she stated, was like that of an 18th-century rely and his precocious daughter, “wherein she grows as much as be the proper female companion, parroting him with such subtlety that it’s inconceivable to inform her ideas and emotions, so coincident together with his, aren’t authentic.”

She described her husband, the film producer Harrison Starr, who was 13 years her senior, as “a male supremacist within the fashion of Norman Mailer” who infantilized her and provoked in her such frustration that she fantasized about bashing him within the head with a frying pan.

“It’s laborious to struggle an enemy,” she concluded, “who has outposts in your head.”

The piece landed like a cluster bomb. Her marriage didn’t survive. Her relationship together with her father suffered. Girls devoured it, recognizing themselves in her livid prose. To a sure era, it’s nonetheless a touchstone of feminist exposition. Years later, Susan Cheever, writing in The Instances, referred to as it “a scream of marital rage.”

4 years after the Esquire piece was revealed, Ms. Kempton basically vanished, to comply with an Indian mystic named Swami Muktananda, in any other case generally known as Baba, a proponent of a non secular apply generally known as Siddha Yoga. Baba was touring America within the Nineteen Seventies and accruing devotees from the chattering courses by the a whole lot after which the 1000’s — together with, at one level, seemingly half of Hollywood.

By 1982, Ms. Kempton had taken a vow of chastity and poverty to dwell as a monk in Baba’s ashrams, first in India after which in a former borscht belt hotel within the Catskills. He gave her the title Swami Durgananda, and he or she donned the standard orange robes of a Hindu monk.

After she was ordained, as she informed the author Sara Davidson, who profiled Ms. Kempton in 2001, she ran right into a Sarah Lawrence classmate, who then wrote within the alumni e-newsletter, “Noticed Sally Kempton, ’64, who’s now married to an Indian man and is Mrs. Durgananda.”

As The Oakland Tribune reported in 1983, “The Sally Kempton who had written about sexual rage in Esquire now not existed.”

Sally Kempton was born on Jan. 15, 1943, in Manhattan and grew up in Princeton, N.J., the eldest of 5 youngsters. Her mom, Mina (Bluethenthal) Kempton, was a social employee; she and Mr. Kempton divorced when Sally was in faculty.

She attended Sarah Lawrence as a substitute of Barnard, she wrote in her Esquire essay, as a result of her boyfriend on the time thought it was a extra “female” establishment. There, she co-edited {a magazine} parody referred to as The Institution. She was employed by The Village Voice proper after commencement and started writing items, as she put it, about “medication and hippies” that she stated have been principally made up as a result of she had no thought what she was doing. (Her writing belied that assertion.)

She had her first ecstatic expertise, she later recalled, in her house within the West Village, whereas taking psychedelics with a boyfriend and listening to the Grateful Useless tune “Ripple.”

“All of the complexities and the struggling and the ache and the psychological stuff I used to be involved with as a downtown New York journalist simply dissolved, and all I may see was love,” she stated in a video on her web site. When she described her new perception to her boyfriend, she stated, he responded by asking, “Haven’t you ever taken acid earlier than?”

However Ms. Kempton had had a transformative expertise, and he or she continued to have them as she started investigating non secular practices like yoga and Tibetan Buddhism. She went to see Baba out of curiosity — everybody was doing it — and, as she wrote in 1976 in New York journal, for those who’re going to get your self a guru, why not get an excellent one?

She was immediately pulled in, she wrote, charmed by his matter-of-fact persona in addition to one thing stronger, if laborious to outline. Earlier than lengthy she had joined his entourage. It felt, she stated, like operating away with the circus.

Her buddies have been appalled. “However you have been at all times so formidable,” one stated. “I’m nonetheless formidable,” she stated. “There’s simply been a slight shift in path.”

Ms. Kempton spent practically 30 years with Baba’s group, generally known as the SYDA Basis, for twenty years of which she was a swami. Baba died in 1982, following accusations that he had sexually abused younger ladies in his ashrams; since his loss of life, the inspiration has been run by his successor, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. In 1994, when Lis Harris, a author for The New Yorker, investigated the inspiration and wrote an article that famous the accusations towards Baba and questions on his succession, she quoted Ms. Kempton as saying that the accusations have been “ridiculous.” Ms. Kempton by no means spoke publicly in regards to the challenge.

In 2002, she put away her robes and left the ashram, transferring to Carmel, the place she turned a well-respected instructor of meditation and non secular philosophy. She was the writer of quite a lot of books on non secular practices, together with “Meditation for the Love of It: Having fun with Your Personal Deepest Expertise” (2011), which has an introduction by Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray Love” fame.

Along with her brother David, Ms. Kempton is survived by two different brothers, Arthur and Christopher. One other brother, James Murray Kempton Jr., generally known as Mike, was killed in a automotive crash together with his spouse, Jean Goldschmidt Kempton, a school pal of Sally’s, in 1971.

Ms. Kempton’s father, after his preliminary shock, was supportive of her new life. He was a non secular man himself, a working towards Episcopalian, however humble about it. “I simply go for the music,” he preferred to inform individuals.

Murray Kempton, who died in 1997, visited the ashram and met with Baba quite a lot of occasions, David Kempton stated, and was respectful of the order’s ethos and historical past. He informed The Oakland Tribune that if his daughter had needed to be a druid he might need fearful.

“I assume she is aware of one thing that I don’t know,” he stated. “I respect her selection. The truth is, I like the selection Sally made. In any case, she is a swami, isn’t she?”

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