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Biographies to Checkout for Women’s History Month: Rosemary and Goddess of Anarchy

6 Mar

For Women’s History Month I decided to review two biographies of women whose importance is frequently neglected. Rosemary Kennedy and Lucy Parsons have only recently been given comprehensive biographies. Although they remain somewhat obscure figures in American history, they have impacted modern life much more than many people realize. These are just two of the many excellent biographies that the Hoboken Library has in its collection.

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter
by Kate Clifford Larson
Rosemary
The Kennedy’s are one of the most documented families in American history, but for decades, the public knew little about the eldest Kennedy sister, Rosemary. Unlike her highly ambitious siblings who were being groomed by their parents for elite society, Rosemary struggled with basic skills and had trouble socializing. Had she been born today, Rosemary’s could have lived a comfortable life, but because she was born into a family with impossibly high standards during a time when people with intellectual disabilities were poorly understand, Rosemary was subjected to a series of cruel treatments, the most horrific being a prefrontal lobotomy she was given at 23-years-old that left her severely disabled and isolated from the public for the rest of her life.

Despite the barbaric way in which she was treated, Rosemary’s life had a great impact on the outside world. Eunice Kennedy Shriver was so horrified by what had happened to her sister that she dedicated her life to advocating for people with disabilities and helped begin the Special Olympics. While in the Senate, Ted Kennedy cosponsored the Americans with Disabilities Act, which he dedicated to his sister who he had barely gotten to know but whose life deeply affected him. What makes Kate Larson’s Rosemary such an excellent read is that it is not just a biography of Rosemary Kennedy; it is also the story of the fight for a more humane society for people with disabilities.

You can borrow Rosemary as an ebook or digital audiobook from eLibraryNJ, eBCCLS and Hoopla.

Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical
by Jacqueline Jones
Goddess of Anarchy
During her life, Lucy Parsons was one of the most well-known speakers on America’s public lecture circuit and at times, the most prominent African American woman in such a position. However, Lucy Parsons has remained an obscure historical figure who has not had a strong biography until Pulitzer Prize nominee Jacqueline Jones uncovered newly discovered documents about her early life. With this new insight in Goddess of Anarchy, Jones illustrates the life of a fearless speaker and activist with a very complex legacy.

Parsons identified as an anarchist, communist, and revolutionary. She was a fierce advocate for the downtrodden and oppressed and was involved in many volatile labor struggles. Her controversial statements and writings led her to spend many nights in jail, but she amazingly lived to be 89-years-old and spent her entire life trying to advance her revolutionary beliefs. At a time when black women were mostly shut out of intellectual life, Parsons’ ability to inspire a crowd was incredibly admirable.

Parson leaves behind a difficult political and racial legacy. Although she was born into slavery, she lied about her background and claimed to be Mexican and Native American. Spending much of her life in Chicago, she identified with city’s white working class immigrants and was accused of downplaying issues of discrimination against African Americans during the time of Jim Crow. There are also questions about whether her violent rhetoric hurt the progress of the causes she believed in. Regardless of what the reader conclude about Parsons, she is a fascinating figure whose role in women’s history in worth exploring.

You can borrow Goddess of Anarchy from eBCCLS as an ebook.

Looking for books for the younger members of your family?  You can get some great suggestions for biographies for children in our previous blog post: Well Behaved Women Don’t Make History.  For more books for adults and some also appropriate for teens we have Heroines You Should Know.  What are some of your favorite biographies about women who have changed history for adults or kids? Share them in our comments!

Written by:
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

Closer You Are: The Story of Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices

3 Oct

CloserYouAre

In 2017, Robert Pollard, an indie rock legend from Dayton, Ohio, hit a milestone few musicians could ever dream of reaching: He released his 100th album. After more than three decades of manically recording at a light-speed pace, Pollard has created a discography so expansive that even he cannot remember everything he has written. Although he has flirted with mainstream success, he is followed by an obsessive fan base that rabidly consumes everything he releases. In Closer You Are, the first official biography written about Pollard, Matthew Cutter does an incredible job documenting a working class kid’s upbringing in the Rust Belt who would go on to have one of the most prolific and strangest careers in all of rock music.

I discovered Robert Pollard’s music as a DJ on my college radio station in the small upstate town of Geneseo, NY. The first time I found a CD of the album Bee Thousand by his band Guided by Voices in our station’s archive, I was mesmerized by the poorly recorded but insanely catchy batch of tunes with names like “Gold Star for Robot Boy” and “Kicker of Elves.” They were equally weird and familiar at the same time. I had never heard anything else like it.

Hoboken residents can stream or download songs from several of Guided by Voices albums from Freegal or those who prefer CDs can request their albums including Please be HonestLet’s Go Eat the Factory, and a Best Of.

Cutter does a great job describing Pollard’s creative process. Many of his song titles and lyrics come from nicknames he created for his students while he was an elementary school teacher in Dayton. He was obsessed with certain expressions and the sound of words, as seen in some of his most famous songs like “14 Cheerleader Coldfront” and “The Gold Heart Mountaintop Queen Directory.” He would often wake up and write several songs while drinking his morning coffee and a dozen more before dinner. A dash of mania, a hyper-competitive personality, and a classic Midwestern work ethic made it possible.

The other great joy of reading Pollard’s biography is experiencing the sheer determination he had to become a successful musician. His wife, parents, and the local music scene in Dayton all hated his early attempts at performing and encouraged him constantly to quit. Pollard didn’t even experience any level of fame until he was in his late 30s and had left a 14-year career as an elementary school teacher. By constantly firing his band mates and having the occasional fistfight, Pollard finally was able to put together his “classic” lineup for a band that would become loved by college rock nerds like myself throughout the county. Cutter’s book is an entertaining read for both fans and people who are just curious about the creative process of an artist with a genius level of output.

Written by
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

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