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Remembering Writing About O'Keeffe

On the set of my interview for the forthcoming Georia O'Keeffe Documentary

I recently had a reason to reread my biography of Georgia O'Keeffe, Portrait of an Artist, the initial biography of the artist, originally published in 1980 and still selling well today. 

 

It was because prize-winning filmmaker Paul Wagner and his wife, Ellen, had asked to interview me for his forthcoming documentary about O'Keeffe. Remembering was easy since I had recently described the daring adventure of writing the biography during O'Keeffe's lifetime in Word for Word

                                                        

I told them about the way first seeing O'Keeffe's gorgeous paintings at the Whitney Museum in 1970 had astonished me. It was a time when young feminists like myself were searching for the stories of inspiring older women, and soon I got to work on the biography.

 

Writing it was an extraordinary experience--both deepening and broadening--and it was an experience that changed my life. 

 
Paul Wagner is an Academy and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, whose many films have premiered at the Sundance, Toronto, Telluride, and Rotterdam film festivals and have been broadcast on PBS.

 

For this documentary, he has obtained the cooperation of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. I've read his script and expect that the documentary will be thorough and excellent.

 

With Warm Regards,
Laurie 
 

                                                                          portrait-of-an-artist.jpg           

       

 

News About Word For Word

 

Latest Reviews


"In immaculate prose, Lisle shares her sometimes lonely and exhausting rebellion against the dictates of her Wasp background...I mightily admire her achievements, and highly recommend this book as a really good read, a penetrating insight into the struggles faced by the women of our generation to live and love and work fully, and an inspiring and thoughtful reflection for young women considering a writing life."
Sharon Charde, poet and author of I Am Not a Juvenile Delinquent

 

"This is a brave and beautifully written memoir, instructive and inspiring...a fascinating, unsparing account of the challenging process of becoming a successful writer. In crystal clear, elegant prose...she captures the deep longing to find purpose in her work and her earnest search for what will bring her joy..."
Holly Peppe, Ph.D., author and Edna St. Vincent Millay scholar and editor

 

"This book is an adventure I never knew I needed as a writer. Dripping with empathy and real-life wonderment about the highs and lows that cleave to writers...Lisle is a timeless artist...Unexpected, essential surprises touched me deeply...Freedom flitted off these pages...I wholeheartedly recommend this work."
Kidron Tirey, Texas journalist

 

A Note to Readers
Now that Word for Word has left my hands and is on its own, your stars and reviews on Amazon and Goodreads help keep it aloft. Thanks!

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The Power of the Third Age

What's called the Third Age, the last years of a woman's life, can last for three or more decades. It can be a time of "freedom and power," said writer Francine du Plessix Gray in The New Yorker, if a woman is up to its "tough, demanding work...[of] relentless alertness."

 

      I got a good look at the Third Age when writing about artists Georgia O'Keeffe and Louise Nevelson, who both had what du Plessix described as "presence, authority, voice" in old age.

 

      The elderly O'Keeffe painted the largest painting in her life in her late seventies and then insisted on hanging an exhibition at the Whitney Museum. Nevelson, who sculpted into her eighties, wore extravagant costumes and enormous false eyelashes, to command attention for her work in her later years.


Older women writers can also empower themselves with their long mastery of words. Writing Word for Word was my way of making a strong statement in a written voice, a voice I tried to make as clear and loud as a bell.

 

With Warm Regards,
Laurie 

 

                      louise_nevelson_a_passionate_life.jpg   Portrait_of_an_Artist_3.jpg

 

 News About Word For Word:

 

Latest Reviews


"In immaculate prose, Lisle shares her sometimes lonely and exhausting rebellion against the dictates of her Wasp background...I mightily admire her achievements, and highly recommend this book as a really good read, a penetrating insight into the struggles faced by the women of our generation to live and love and work fully, and an inspiring and thoughtful reflection for young women considering a writing life."

 

~ Sharon Charde, poet and author of I Am Not a Juvenile Delinquent

 

"This is a brave and beautifully written memoir, instructive and inspiring...a fascinating, unsparing account of the challenging process of becoming a successful writer. In crystal clear, elegant prose...she captures the deep longing to find purpose in her work and her earnest search for what will bring her joy..."

 

~ Holly Peppe, Ph.D., author and Edna St. Vincent Millay scholar and editor

 

"This book is an adventure I never knew I needed as a writer. Dripping with empathy and real-life wonderment about the highs and lows that cleave to writers...Lisle is a timeless artist...Unexpected, essential surprises touched me deeply...Freedom flitted off these pages...I wholeheartedly recommend this work"

 

~ Kidron Tirey, Texas journalist
 

A Note to Readers


Now that Word for Word has left my hands and is on its own, your stars and reviews on Amazon and Goodreads help keep it aloft. Thanks!

 

                                                                                word_for_word_40percent.jpg

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My Next Book?

As I approach another birthday after the publication of Word for Word, friends are asking me what my next book will be, and I really don't know what to say.

 

I now have an inkling about how long writers write thanks to a Lit Hub editor, who examined publishing histories of eighty authors. Unsurprisingly, poets published earliest and memoirists latest. Lengths of careers averaged thirty-four years; women usually first published around age 31 and stopped around age 64. 

 

I was surprised to learn that I have been writing longer than many. I started publishing a little later than others but I have laster longer, coming out with the memoir at the age of 78.

 

Do I want to spend my precious days writing more books or reading wonderful books of others? Yes, I have more ideas for books to write, but I'm not ready to say if I will write them or not.

 

With Warm Regards,
Laurie 
 

News About Word for Word
Librarians in Connecticut, Illinois, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, and California have recently acquired it.

 

Publisher's Weekly's BookLife named it an Editor's Pick for "outstanding quality" and praised it for its memorable first line: "This is a memoir about living a writing life--wanting to be a writer, becoming a writer, and being a writer--as acts of self-expression, self-assertion, and womanly survival."

 

Latest Reviews
"Unexpected, essential surprises touched me deeply...Freedom flitted off these pages," says Kidron Tirey, a Texas journalist.

 

"An inherently fascinating memoir, deftly crafted, impressively informative, thoughtful, thought-provoking, truly memorable," says the Midwest Book Review

 

A Note to Readers
Now that Word for Word has left my hands and is on its own, your stars and reviews on Amazon and Goodreads help keep it aloft. Thanks!

Post a comment

The Post-publication Pause is Perilous for Writers

My garden in July with phlox and hosta in bloom beside the columnar boxwood.
 

Writing Word for Word, was "an extraordinary experience of remembering, finding the right words for what happened, making me a little wiser, then allowing the past to recede again," I wrote. Now what?

 

The pause after a book is published is a perilous time for writers. It's when we have worked ourselves out of an all-consuming job. Days suddenly may seem empty and purposeless. Uncertainty about what's next can be unsettling.

 

It took a while for me to remember that post-publication is a time for recovery, rest, and waiting. For nurturing a sense of expectancy. For tending my neglected garden, which is a wonderful way to replenish myself. And, this year, it's a time for finally seeing friends and family members without masks.  

     

With Warm Regards,
Laurie 

 

News About Word for Word
Publisher's Weekly's BookLife named it an Editor's Pick for "outstanding quality" and praised it for its memorable first line: "This is a memoir about living a writing life--wanting to be a writer, becoming a writer, and being a writer--as acts of self-expression, self-assertion, and womanly survival."

 

More Reviews
"Unexpected, essential surprises touched me deeply...Freedom flitted off these pages," says Kidron Tirey, Texas journalist

 

"An inherently fascinating memoir, deftly crafted, impressively informative, thoughtful, thought-provoking, truly memorable," says the Midwest Book Review

 

A Note to Readers:
Now that Word for Word has left my hands and is on its own, your stars and reviews on Amazon and Goodreads help keep it aloft. Thanks!
 

Post a comment

A Memoir Especially For Women Writers

It was a thrill to hear from a Texas journalist that Word for Word "is an adventure that I never knew I needed as a writer." And then to read that the memoir is "especially recommended reading for any and all aspiring writers," in the Midwest Book Review.

 

I wrote the memoir for myself but also with other writers in mind, mostly younger women writers grappling with the same difficult conflicts as mine, like the one between writing and mothering.

 

Women agents, women editors, and women friends advised, encouraged, and mentored me as a writer, so it's gratifying to know that the ups and downs of my writing life have meaning for younger women like Kidron Tirey, the journalist in Texas.


The first sentence of Word for Word has been chosen for the "First Lines" column in the June 2021 issue of Publishers Weekly. It goes: "This is a memoir about living a writing life--wanting to be a writer, becoming a writer, and being a writer--as acts of self-expression, self-assertion, and womanly survival."

 

If you've read Word for Word and liked it, please review it on Amazon or Goodreads or somewhere else. You don't have to be a writer to do it! 

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When Writing About Myself

It was important to me to write a memoir as a way to look back and make sense of the past. When it was time to publish Word for Word, it was a moment of truth. Did I dare go public with what I remembered? Good, bad, and indifferent?

       

"The wish to tell one's story may be stronger than the anxiety of exposure, but not by much," Daphne Merkin has written. "Memoirists...risk being judged not only on the quality of their prose but on the content of their character."

 

Over a period of time, like other memoirists I gradually found a way to turn my caution into a kind of writerly courage.  

 

With warm regards,
Laurie 

 

News About Word for Word:

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When Writing About Others

Perhaps the most problematic part about writing a memoir is writing about others, dead and alive. Especially alive.

 

What to do? You can drop names and change names. You can express yourself extremely carefully. You can be absolutely sure of your facts. You can get liability insurance.

 

The problem is usually more daunting at the beginning than at the end of writing a memoir.

What I and other memoirists often discover while working on draft after draft is that anger gradually softens through more insight and turns into something else. Like compassion.

 

With warm regards,
Laurie

                                   turtles_whatever_you_do.jpg

I spotted this cartoon -- a little yellowed and faded from being on my bulletin board -- in The New Yorker a year or so ago.  It expresses the fear that friends and family may feel when someone announces they're writing a memoir. Happily, my husband Robert was never worried.

 

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The Joy of Gardening

A view of the blossoming "Denuada" and "Leonard Messel" magnolias in my backyard.

      Now that another April has exploded in Connecticut--bursting blossoms and greening the landscape--I'm reminded again of the amazing power of nature.

      Rachel Carlson credited biophilia (loving nature) and hortophilia (tending nature) to health and healing.

      And Oliver Sachs discovered that nature had a restorative effect on the brains of his patients often "more powerful than any medication."

      When I moved to the country after a divorce and began to garden, it was so joyful and transformative that I eventually wrote Four Tenths of an Acre, a book that looks at life through the green glasses of a gardener.

      "Working the soil brings me back to my own nature, and I now understand that tending a garden is the same as taking care of myself," I wrote.

      "The rituals of gardening give a rhythm, even a rapture to living, apart from the routines of writing and the ebbs and flows of relationships."

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About Being Reviewed

Word For Word  Publication May  11,2021

     When a box of advance reading copies of Word for Word: A Writer's Life arrived recently, I felt a little trepidation about sending out the books before remembering others' attitudes toward reviews.

     Centuries ago, an English duchess, Margaret Cavendish, hoped that people would not think her "vain" for writing a memoir; it might not be important to them, she admitted, "but it is to the Authoress, because I write it for my own sake, not theirs."

     Georgia O'Keeffe was also defiant about reviews: "I make up my own mind about it—how good or bad or how indifferent it is. After that, critics can write what they please. I have already worked it out for myself, so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free."

 

     I'm neither indifferent like the duchess nor defiant like O'Keeffe. While working on my memoir was a little like writing a long letter to myself, I hope that what I learned might be meaningful to others.

 

     Before long, there were some very nice responses, including:

 

     "Word for Word is a beautifully told story about the growth of a woman writer…whose intellectual and spiritual debts are to women writers, feminism, and, more generally, to strong women…" Carol Ascher, author of Afterimages: A Family Memoir

 .

     "In fluid, evocative prose that is at once personal and political, Laurie Lisle turns her biographer's eye on her own life with a clear-eyed, honest gaze that probes, delights, and illuminates." Jennifer Browdy, author of The Elemental Journey of Purposeful Memoir.
 

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The Way I Wrote My Memoir

Word For Word: A Writer's Life  Publication May 11, 2021

      Writers cherish words, and I've saved my own and the words of others sent to me in letters throughout my life.

     

   When I decided to write a memoir, I went to look for my forty or so journals. 

     

      "I gathered them together, numbered them, and arranged them on a bookshelf--from the college spiral notebooks to the more recent hardback Moleskine volumes--and then opened the fragile first page of the 1963 journal," as I explained in Word for Word: A Writer's Life.  

     

     They helped me remember and then write the memoir.   

 

     The image above is a photo of the journals along with a teenage diary with a lock and a cartoon character on the cover saying "my year... and how I shot it."

 

     I took the journals with me everywhere. They're now a bit battered, and the paper is brittle and in some places torn, but the words remain legible.

 

 

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