During all the intervening years, the group has met faithfully on the first Monday of every month. During that time, the members have published literally dozens of biographies, including Blanche Wiese Cook’s magisterial three volumes on Eleanor Roosevelt, Deirdre Bair’s Simone de Beauvoir, and many others on the women, well-known and less well-known, who have charted our courses for the last two hundred years.
What an accomplishment. What undaunted effort it takes to continue to organize the meetings, arrange for the speakers, provide the refrreshments and send out the notices. I particularly admire these concerted efforts because I am not, myself, particularly good at them.
I am one of the few members who lives outside of the New York metropolitan area, where publishing and academia find their centers, and where it is so costly and difficult, in many ways, to live. It’s a long trip to New York from Santa Fe and so I only make it to a few meetings a year, but the group is always in my consciousness—the true and perhaps the only group of my peers.
The twenty-fifth anniversary meeting Friday was held at what used to be one of the big New York department stores, Altmans, where for generations women shopped for dresses and hats and gloves and all the other accouterments of middle-class life that have now been (mostly) consigned to the dust bin. It seems particularly appropriate that we biographers, thanks to the City University of New York, now found ourselves gathering where once we might have been turning over articles in bins.
We were treated to three panels on the art of writing biography; I spoke on one and relished the opportunity to go into some detail about my biography of Doris Duke, to be titled Doris Duke: The Invention of the New Woman when it is published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux next spring.
To speak to my peers, who know exactly where I am coming from as a writer and a feminist, is such a rare and compelling treat; to be able to laugh together, be outrageous together, and feel certain of the support of like-minded women who have been through it all: the struggle to find a publisher, to survive the editing process, to go on to sell the book to audiences who may, even now, wonder as they did years ago whether a woman’s life is worth writing about.
There are hair-raising stories, but there are also triumphs.
Outside the building, the Manhattan streets were lashed with the winds and rain of a hurricane; umbrellas were turned inside out, pant legs and shoes were soaked, rivers ran along the curbs. But inside there was the palpable warmth of fellow feeling, of shared endeavor, which I will long remember when I return to my solitary work in Santa Fe.
Bravo, women biographers!