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Jottings page
 
 

Was "Anonymous" a Woman?

One of the books I eagerly anticipate reading every year is the latest in The Best American Essays series. As a writer of what I like to call verity, it's exciting to sample so many subjects and styles of writing about what's literally true.

I was intrigued by the last entry in the 2020 edition, "Was Shakespeare a Woman?" by Elizabeth Winker. She writes that material in his plays was informed by the court experiences and feminist attitudes of Emilia Bassano, who was maybe a friend, lover, or even a collaborator, and the "dark lady" in his sonnets.

Emilia was a member of a musical family of "likely Jewish" Venetian immigrants in London, who published a book of poetry that advocated for women's "Libertie." Did Shakespeare draw on her words for his fictional Emilia's defense of women in "Othello?"

Winkler's theory reminds me of the debates about poetry and prose signed "Anon." over the ages: Virginia Woolf, for one, speculated that much of it was written by women not allowed to sign their names.

 

With warm wishes,
Laurie

 

 

 

The Best American Essays 2021


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The latest volume, edited by journalist Kathryn Schulz, contains twenty essays on race relations, the coronavirus, and other reflections above living through the previous difficult year. She wrote that she chose them to reflect "the vast rich realms of thought and experience both within and mercifully beyond the anguish of this past year.

    

News About Word for Word


It's nice to know that the book is for sale at bookstores around the country, including the WORD Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City, and Eso Won Books in Los Angeles.

 

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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 Pleasure of Reading in Winter

Dear Friends and Readers,

 

During the cold dark days of December, after giving up sunny hours in the garden for electrically lit hours indoors, creative work becomes more elusive for me, as if a source of energy is gone. 

 

So I turn the darkening days into a time to rest and restore myself, like the way roots find nourishment underground. And place cyclamen, orchids, and amaryllis in front of the east and south windows in my writing room.

 

It's also a time for me to lose myself in other writers' words. I read on my grandmother's chaise, in bed during the long dark nights and dawns, or on the train to New York when I can get away.

Interiority and introspection can lead to new insights and ideas. And before long the shortest day will arrive on December 21st and mark the end of the diminishing light.

 

Warmly,
Laurie 

 

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My list of books to read is dauntingly long. I read about them online, then search for them here and there. In New York, I love exploring the stacks of the subscription library I've belonged to for more than forty years to see if the titles still intrigue me. There are other ways to find fascinating books, too. I just, for instance, finished Colum McCann's Apeirogon, a powerful hybrid novel that was not on my list, for a reading group.

 

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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Women Writing About Their Lives

A fascinating new wide-ranging book about the writings of female poets and prose writers is titled Still Mad: American Women Writers and the Feminist Imagination by literary critics Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, authors of Madwomen in the Attic.

 

Reading its early chapters was like reliving my past--the impact of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1963 when I was in college, and the so-called demon texts of the Women's Liberation Movement in the 1970s when I lived in New York City.

 

Still Mad made me remember how dramatically the movement has changed women's lives. It noted, for instance, that Friedan's cry to arms was published only a little more than a week after Sylvia Plath, overwhelmed by domesticity, killed herself.

 

I'm glad that Word for Word describes the importance of second-wave feminism. After Anita Hill's 1991 testimony in Congress about sexual harassment, Rebecca Walker declared: "I am not a postfeminist feminist. I am the Third Wave."

 

With Warm Regards,
Laurie 

 

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New Review


"Lisle meticulously and thoughtfully sets down the currents of history and the schools of feminist thought that shaped her as a woman and a writer...[Her] quiet grit carries her through to professional acclaim and personal satisfaction." -- BookLife Prize

 

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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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 
 

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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!

Post a comment

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 

 

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 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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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

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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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