I spent the first few decades of my writing life writing books and articles on Shakespeare, Doris Lessing, feminist criticism, but then I became interested in women’s health activism and began a book on breast cancer activism which morphed into a book on cancer and environmental pollution, which never got published.
(A front-page article in The Nation came of this: 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 did in the 1940s and 50s, you double the risk of a childhood cancer. She was 88 when I met her, a guru to the anti-nuclear movement, a hero whose story needed to be told. I spent five years flying from California to England, interviewing her, her family, co-workers, and nuclear scientists, and writing her biography, The Woman Who Knew Too Much.
Writing became my way of mourning my mother’s death, and this turned into a memoir, Missing Persons, an elegy not only for my family, but for the place I grew up, Silicon Valley while it was still the Santa Clara Valley, as idyllic as it is gross today.
Around this time, I embarked on a first-person account of living with insomnia, which I thought would be a memoir. But as I set out to discover what is known about insomnia, the book became as much about sleep science as about me. (Insomniac 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…”
My forthcoming book, Immeasurable Outcomes: What Colleges "Produce" (Johns Hopkins University Press, fall 2022) shows why the humanities matter now more than ever. I show (as well as tell) what is valuable about the humanities, by bringing you into my Shakespeare class, where you see the life and fun and urgency of it. A liberal arts education is about the cultivation of the human--you've heard this before. But you haven't actually seen how the process works, how a class can develop the kind of intelligence and imagination that a democracy depends on. I also show how the crisis of the liberal arts is tied to the crises K-12 public schools have been thrown into since they were hit by so-called "reform," with G.W. Bush's No Child Left Behind, 2002.
I’ve published in mainstream venues such as The New York Times, Ms. Magazine as well as scholarly journals such as Signs, Contemporary Literature, Renaissance Drama. Lately I've published online in Huff Po, Psychology Today, The American Prospect, Counterpunch.
Below are some links to articles related to my work on education. The first is an elegiac piece that appeared in the Los Angeles Times about my mother's piano and the power of the arts. The second, from HuffPo, is an analysis of the Orwellian language of corporate reform. The third is a review of Molly McClain's biography of Ellen Browning Scripps, the founder of Scripps College (where I taught 40 years), whose philanthropy sets an example every educational philanthropist should follow--leave education to the educators. The last links are to articles about the ed tech industry, high-stakes testing, and the liberal arts.
“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
"Ed Tech Cashes in on the Pandemic"
"The Country Moves Forward, Education Falls Back"
"The Liberal Arts are not Disposable"
Oh, yes, and my (one) published poem, “Death’s Brother". Here.