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Eve Merriam; Award-Winning Poet, Dramatist

April 14, 1992|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eve Merriam, whose award-winning poems and plays ran the gamut from pixieish verse to fierce feminism, is dead at 75.

The Associated Press reported Monday that the author of more than 50 books for adults and children died of cancer Saturday at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City.

Her best known work was also her most unusual: a play in which seven women dressed in white tie and tails as Edwardian gentlemen traded chauvinist jokes and songs.

She called it "The Club" and it won 10 Obies (off-Broadway awards) after it opened at the Circle-in-the-Square Theater in New York in 1976. It continues to be widely staged as a cult favorite.

She was able to prevail on producers for that highly unlikely production because of the success of "Out of Our Fathers' House," a "little play," as she described it, which became must reading in the 1970s for most women's studies courses.

It was based on a book she had written--"Growing Up Female in America: Ten Lives"--in which she portrayed an ethnic, economic and geographic cross-section of some famous and some little known women in America.

It was presented at the White House in 1978 and shown on public television's "Great Performances" series.

Although widely known for her plays, the greater portion of her artistic output was in books of poetry, fiction and nonfiction for children. Such works as "It Doesn't Always Have to Rhyme," "Blackberry Ink" and "Halloween ABC" brought her honors from such groups as the National Council of Teachers of English.

But not all of her children's works were wildly acclaimed. "The Inner City Mother Goose," published in 1969, brought critical howls for its sardonic reinterpretation of traditional nursery rhymes.

Such lines as: "Run, run father, go away; Welfare worker is due today" brought complaints from law enforcement officials who said it encouraged criminal activity.

Miss Merriam said without elaborating in a 1980 Times interview that it was "the \o7 second \f7 most banned book in America." It became the 1972 Broadway musical "Inner City," which won a Tony award for Linda Hopkins.

Saying that she could find few role models for herself growing up in Philadelphia, she did locate some while studying at the University of Pennsylvania and then at libraries in the evening after she began working as a radio script and advertising writer in her native city.

Her first published book of poems was "Family Circle" in 1946, which won Yale University's Younger Poets Prize.

Most recently, she had finished two more books and a series of poems set to music.

Three of her four marriages ended in divorce. Her last husband, Waldo Salt, the Oscar-winning screenwriter for "Coming Home" in 1978, died in 1987. Survivors include two sons, a brother and sister.

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