You can find out more about my next book, now titled The Silver Swan: Searching for Doris Duke, on my dedicated Doris Duke bibliography page.
This is a slightly—only slightly—deceptive headline, since really my biography of Doris Duke is moving not so much into the limelight (more on that later) as into the searchlight of the editing process. Several weeks ago I sent my final, fourth draft of the biography to my esteemed editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux and she began to shine the searchlight of the editing profess on it.
As a result, I am now reading, and occasionally wrestling with, what might be call the collision—or the creative cooperation—of two minds, essentially different: the mind of the writer and the mind of the editor. The mind of the editor is precise, honed by knowledge of what the reading public expects, while the mind of the writer is allusive, if not elusive, given to making connections and comparisons that may be more illuminating of general themes than exact in terms of time and place.
The page shown here gives a notion of the care my editor is giving to my biography; she has great skill at finding shorter and better ways of stating a fact, and some tolerance for my at times fanciful and even poetic way of writing, although “twinkling” handles on the drawers of Doris Duke’s steamer trunk proved to be a little too much for her.
And, I must admit, fancifulness is not often appropriate to the complex life story of a woman whose name crops up so frequently, even now three decades after her death. Yesterday, a review of a dance company performing at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Western Massachusetts mentioned that the dancers are dancing in the Doris Duke Theater, and I remember her passion for modern dance and her self-discipline when she was taking Martha Graham’s classes in New York. I wonder, by the by, how many people in the audience at Jacob’s Pillow wonder who Doris Duke was or why she left so much money to support modern dance—and whether, by any slim chance, there is a biographical note in the program.
There is a certain rightness in detaching the name of the donor from the gift, as time passes, although because Doris Duke was often maligned during her lifetime, the association of her name with the well-respected Jacob’s Pillow program is one of the first steps toward recreating her reality, with all its complexities, which is what my biography is doing.
So on with the editing process as I fight my natural impatience and my rebel-girl resistance to being corrected. I read recently that Winston Churchill, also at times short tempered, said that he loved to learn—but hated to be taught.
Well, I am being taught.
[For more on Doris Duke and dancing, please read “Doris Duke and Me: Dancing“]