It has been a little more than six years since I signed the contract. During two years of editing, I had to venture out from the cocoon that we writers construct for ourselves in order to do our necessarily solitary work, had to try to imagine how the reader new to the story might respond to my quest, to my recreation of a complex and often misunderstood life.
Now I have a group of professionals—a team!—at my publishing house to usher my manuscript on its way to print. First will come the copyedited version, which I will receive later this month and return at the end of November, with almost no changes or deletions on my part—that work is done. Then, three different sets of galleys, sent to me over the winter and the spring. Finally the complex and delicate plans to forward the sale of the book—interviews, readings, and many questions:
Why Doris Duke?
What does her life have to tell us now?
Two days ago, my devoted and hardworking editor and I chose the thirty or so black and white photos which will complement my words, photos that include formal fashions shoots taken for Vogue, delightfully informal snapshots from Doris’ Hawaii honeymoon, essential portraits of many of the friends, lovers and husbands who complicated and enriched her life—Jimmy Cromwell, in an Hawaiian lei, Porfirio Rubirosa, nervously smoking a cigarette at their Paris wedding, Doris’ great mentor in the work of land conservation, Louis Bromfield, her jazz musician lover Joey Castro, her close friend and assistant, Marian Paschal, her adopted daughter, Chandi Heffner—and many, many more…I’m grateful to my publisher for positioning this book as it should be—as the first serious literary biography of an often-misunderstood major philanthropist and collector. Doris was the woman whose independent, dynamic life exemplified the New Woman yet did not feel her connection to feminism until very late, if at all. A compelling set of contradictions for me to weave my way through, drawing on the enormous archive—2000 linear feet—Doris left to Duke University, which her father founded and to which she generously contributed.
That archive is both the lodestone and the source of my biography, rather than letters and interviews, of which there are few. As my editor reminded me, using Doris’ own collection of papers evokes “the right of a woman to define how she wants to be remembered.”
I felt so at home as we sat in FS&G’s small offices on West 18th Street in New York, surrounded by boxes of books—my publisher is moving. The five people who joined me there asked the questions that have boiled in my mind from the beginning: Why? And how—when Doris herself wrote so little? And what is the crucial importance of this shadowed life? They are strangers to me, yet they care: the director of publicity, my editor, the young assistants to the work…
The offices reminded me that publishing is no longer glamorous, if it ever was. The intrusions of Amazon, Kindle and so on, and the declining number of people who read in this country, have cut into what was always a narrow margin of profit. Publishers and editors work long hours because they love the written word and believe in its future.
My work and my professional life rests on the devotion of people I will slowly come to know over the next months. And for that I am profoundly grateful.
And now for the permissions…