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

Once a rising star in New York journalism and a staunch defender of radical feminism, Sally Kempton, who later pivoted to a life of Eastern asceticism and spiritual practice, is in Carmel, Calif., Monday. died at home. he was 80 years old.

Her brother David Kempton said the cause was heart failure, adding she had chronic lung disease.

Ms. Kempton’s literary career was impeccable. Her father, Murray Kempton, was an erudite and acerbic newspaper columnist and New York journalist who joined the group in the late 1960s as a staff writer for the Village Voice and a contributor to the New York Times. played. Although she was a bright and talented reporter, she sometimes felt that she had not properly earned her place as a journalist, largely because of her father’s reputation.

She has written arch articles about New Age trends like astrology. “People believe in marijuana and Bob Dylan,” she noted in The Times in 1969, adding, “Astrology is part of the atmosphere that includes these things and others. It’s a way of talking.” She profiled rock stars like Frank Zappa and gave a book review for The Times.

She and fellow writer Susan Brownmiller 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 offices to protest its editorial content. She was contemptuous of women.In the same month, she and Ms. Brownmiller Invited to “The Dick Cavett Show” It represents what was then called the women’s liberation movement. The two sat down with Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, and were joined by guest rocker Grace Slick (who didn’t quite subscribe to feminist causes).

But what made Ms. Kempton famous for a brief moment in New York was intense essay In Esquire’s July 1970 issue, “Cutting Loose,” she focused on her father, her husband, and her own complicity in the then regressive gender roles.

The basic point of this essay was that she had been raised to be some kind of intelligent but obedient helper, and was resentful of her success. Her father believed women were incapable of taking themselves seriously, and she had mastered the art of demeaning them, she wrote. Their relationship was like that of an 18th-century count and his precocious daughter, she says. It’s not original because it matches his stuff too much. “

she described her husband, a film producer Harrison StarrHe infantilized her as a “Norman Mailer-esque male supremacist” who was 13 years older than her, and became so frustrated that she fantasized about hitting him over the head with a frying pan.

“It’s hard to fight an enemy who has an outpost in his head,” she concluded.

The fragments landed like cluster bombs. Her marriage did not survive. Her relationship with her father deteriorated. Women devoured it, recognizing themselves in her ferocious prose. For a generation, it is still the touchstone of feminist exposition. Years later, Susan Cheever wrote in The Times, calling it a “marital cry of anger.”

Four years after the Esquire article was published, Mr. Kempton virtually disappeared in pursuit of an Indian mystic named Swami Muktananda (aka Baba), the proponent of the spiritual practice known as Siddha Yoga. . Bubba he toured America in the 1970s and gained hundreds and even thousands of followers from the chatty ranks. It seems that at one point half of Hollywood was included.

By 1982, Mr. Kempton had taken vows of chastity and poverty and lived as a monk, first at Baba’s Ashram in India and then at the former Borscht Belt Hotel in the Catskill Mountains. He gave her the name Swami Durgananda and she wore the traditional orange robes of a Hindu monk.

After her ordination, she told author Sarah Davidson: The person who introduced Mr. Kempton’s profile in 2001There, she met Sarah Lawrence’s classmate. The classmate wrote in her alumni newsletter, “I saw Ms. Sally Kempton, 64. He is now married to an Indian man and is Mrs. Durgananda.”

As the Oakland Tribune reported in 1983, “There is no longer Sally Kempton who wrote about sexual anger in Esquire.”

Born January 15, 1943 in Manhattan, Sally Kempton was raised in Princeton, New Jersey, the eldest of five children. Her mother, Mina (Brousenthal) Kempton, was a social worker. She and Mr. Kempton divorced when Sally was in college.

She went to Sarah Lawrence instead of Bernard, she wrote in an Esquire magazine essay. Because my boyfriend at the time thought it was a more “feminine” institution. There she co-edited a parody magazine called The establishment. She was hired by the Village Voice soon after graduation, and she began writing a piece about, in her words, “drugs and hippies,” but according to her, she didn’t know what she was doing. She had no idea she was there, and she said it was mostly made up. (Her article betrayed that claim.)

She later recalled her first ecstatic experience was in her West Village apartment, taking psychedelics with her boyfriend and listening to the Grateful Dead song “Ripple.” bottom.

“All the complications, the suffering, the pain, the spiritual that I was concerned about as a journalist in downtown New York just melted away and all I saw was love,” she said in the video. on her website. When she explained her newfound insight to her boyfriend, he asked, “Have you ever taken acid before?”, she said.

But Kempton had a transformative experience that she continued as she began to explore spiritual practices such as yoga and Tibetan Buddhism. She went to see Baba out of her curiosity – everyone did – and She wrote in New York magazine in 1976:if you’re going to get yourself a master, why not get a good one?

She wrote that she was immediately drawn in, attracted by his detached character and something more powerful, though difficult to define. Eventually she joined his entourage. She felt like running away with the circus, she said.

Her friends were appalled. “But you were always very ambitious,” said one. “I’m still ambitious,” she said. “It’s just a slight change in direction.”

Ms. Kempton spent nearly 30 years in Baba’s organization known as the SYDA Foundation, 20 of those years being Swami. She died in 1982 after Baba was accused of sexually abusing a young woman in her own ashram. After his death the foundation is run by his successor Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. In 1994, New Yorker writer Rhys Harris said: investigated the foundation She wrote an article pointing out the accusations against Bubba and questions about his succession, but she quoted Ms Kempton as saying the accusations were “ridiculous.” Kempton never spoke publicly about the issue.

In 2002, she put away her robes, left the ashram and moved to Carmel to teach meditation and spiritual philosophy. She is the author of numerous books on spiritual practices, including Meditation to Love Love: The Deepest of Yourself, with a preface by Elizabeth Gilbert of the famous Eat and Pray Love. Enjoy the Experience” (2011).

Kempton has two brothers, Arthur and Christopher, in addition to his younger brother David. Another brother, James Murray Kempton Jr., known as Mike, died in a car accident in 1971 along with Sally’s college friend and his wife Jean Goldschmidt Kempton.

Kempton’s father, though shocked at first, was supportive of her new life. He was a spiritual man himself, an Anglican, but he was humble about it. “I just want music,” he liked to tell people.

Murray Kempton, who died in 1997, visited the ashram, met with Baba many times and respected the spirit and history of the Order, David Kempton said. He told the Oakland Tribune that his daughter might have worried if she wanted to become a druid.

“I think she knows something I don’t,” he said. “I respect her choice. In fact, I admire Sally’s choice. After all, she teeth Is she Swami? “

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