Welcome to my world! which may well be your world, too, since everyone loses a mother, and lots of people have problems with sleep. Sleep and death are the subjects of my last two books (also of my poem, “Death’s Brother"). Here.
I started my writing life doing academic books and articles, but when I turned fifty, I jumped track. I felt like the world didn’t need more books of literary criticism, at least not by me, so I embarked on a book on women’s health activism which evolved into a book on breast cancer activism which metastasized to a book about cancer and environmental pollution, which never got published.
(What came of this work was a front-page article in The Nation: A Toxic Link to Breast Cancer? )
While researching cancer, I met Dr Alice Stewart, the pioneer physician and epidemiologist who discovered that when you x-ray pregnant women, as doctors were doing in the 1940s and 50s, you double the risk of a childhood cancer (she is why physicians don't do this anymore). Her expertise on low-dose radiation plunged her into an international controversy over radiation risk. She was 88 when I met her, a guru to the anti-nuclear movement, a hero with a story that needed to be told. Shortly before I finished her biography, The Woman Who Knew Too Much, I found myself writing about my mother’s death. Writing was my way of mourning; it shaped itself into a memoir, Missing Persons.
Around this time, I embarked on what I thought would be another memoir, Insomniac. As I set out to discover what is known about insomnia (not much, it turns out), I became fascinated by the world of sleep science, and the book became more and more scientific. (It was shortlisted for the Gregory Bateson Prize by the Society for Cultural Anthropology: “Shakespeare scholar turns ethnographer, sleep specialist, and science detective…[and] reveals just how little the contemporary medical community knows about the world of sleeplessness…”
I’ve published in mainstream venues, The Nation, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Ms Magazine, as well as scholarly journals such as Signs, Contemporary Literature, Renaissance Drama. I’ve been blogging for Huff Po, Psychology Today, and elsewhere for the past decade.
I’m currently finishing a book about the humanities and why they matter more than ever in the age of the algorithm. Below are links to some articles relating to this project. The first is an elegiac piece about my mother's piano, my earliest experience of the redemptive power of the arts, published in the Los Angeles Times. The second, from HuffPo, is a blistering denunciation of the so-called "reform" of K-12 which is killing the arts. The third is a review of Molly McClain's biography of Ellen Browning Scripps, the founder of Scripps College, whose philanthropy sets a shining example that all educational philanthropists should follow--she left education to the educators, no strings attached. Her legacy is the women's college I taught at for 40 years.
“Mother’s Day Memories, Piano Lessons—for Life”
“In the Public Schools It’s been 1984 for Quite Awhile”
"Buried Treasure": Ellen Browning Scripps: New Money and American Philanthropy, by Molly McClain