Linda Gordon was interviewed yesterday on NPR’s Morning Edition about her new book, Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits. Many of you are probably familiar with Gordon’s career–NYU historian and a winner of muliple prestigious historical prizesfor her books going back nearly 35 years–all the more impressive because her work is unabashedly feminist. Her new work on Lange sounds fascinating–the linked interview gives an overview of Lange, a San Francisco portrait photographer whose work for the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression gave her photos a national audience. Gordon’s work may also be of interest to historians of disability–Lange had a withered foot that was the result of a bout with polio at age 7, and Gordon mentions it more than once during the interview. (Lange even made her foot the subject of a striking “self-portrait.”)
Although I don’t write modern U.S. history, that’s the field I end up reading in for fun more than any other, especially biographies of women. It’s seems like it would be so easy and relaxing to write histories and biographies of women who were literate and wrote stuff down! I suppose the challenge is sorting through all of those letters and journals and newspaper accounts and finding the narrative within the deluge of documents. (I’d be interested in hearing from those of you whose work is on more recent history–how do you do it?) Another challenge I don’t have to deal with: a living subject, or living intimate family members of my subjects. For example, I remember reading about the tsuris Daniel Horowitz endured from Betty Friedan when publishing his brilliant biography of Friedan, in which he revealed her early journalism on behalf of the Communist Party. And boy, was she pissed off! After working so hard all her life to remake her public image into that of a nice, bourgeois Smithie who was radicalized by the boredom on the ‘burbs–here comes this guy to reveal that she had bright red roots!
Are there any biographies on your summer reading lists? (Do you shun biographies?) Tell me.