I spent the first few decades of my writing life writing books and articles on Shakespeare, Doris Lessing, feminist criticism. Then I got interested in women’s health activism and began a book on breast cancer activism which morphed into a book on cancer and environmental toxins, which never got published. What came of that was a front-page article in The Nation: A Toxic Link to Breast Cancer?
While researching the causes of cancer, I came across 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. I spent five years flying back and forth between California and 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 is an elegy not only for a family but for a place, Silicon Valley, once the "Valley of Heart's Delight," as idyllic as it is gross today.
Around this time, I embarked on a first-person account of living with insomnia. I thought this was going to be a memoir, but as I set out to discover what's 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: Teaching Shakespeare in the Age of the Algorithm (Johns Hopkins UP, 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 show how the crisis of the humanities is related to the high-stakes standardized testing regime imposed on K-12 by so-called "reform" that began with No Child Left Behind and continues through the Common Core.
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 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 for educational philanthropy --leave education to the educators. The last links are to articles about the ed tech industry, high-stakes testing, and the liberal arts, and a review of the Netflix hit, The Chair.
“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.