3 captivating biographies for women's history month
From children's lit to poetry to cinema – these three women made big contributions.
1. 'In the Great Green Room,' by Amy Gary
Early on in In the Great Green Room, author Amy Gary's chatty, groundbreaking new biography of beloved children's book author Margaret Wise Brown,there's a scene from 1934 New York, when struggling young writer Brown attends a talk by Gertrude Stein and emerges from the lecture intent on forging a new style for her work.
Readers familiar with Margaret Wise Brown mainly through the calm serenity of her best-selling classics like "Goodnight Moon" and "The Runaway Bunny" might have trouble picturing their author as an insecure writer, but Gary, who in 1990 discovered a trove of Brown's unpublished manuscripts in an attic in Maine, has used her unrivaled familiarity with the author's life and times to craft a vivid portrait of a far more vulnerable and charismatic figure, a woman who knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a writer but spent a long time trying to figure out how to make that happen.
The change in approach inspired by Gertrude Stein's lecture did the trick; suddenly, Brown was getting commissions with publishers all over Manhattan and actually earning money. Another transformative influence was the legendary Harper & Row children's editor Ursula Nordstrom, who “had a knack for spotting talented writers and illustrators” – and an even stronger knack for promoting the living daylights out of the authors she loved. Nordstrom's efforts made 1942's "Don't Frighten the Lion" a hit and did likewise for "The Runaway Bunny" and a shelf of other works.
Gary smoothly intertwines the story of the writing of these now-classic books with the complicated and often tumultuous twists of Brown's personal life, and the effect is both intimate and revelatory.
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