Archive for September, 2011

2011 National Book Festival

The 2011 National Book Festival in Washington, DC

Another week is coming to a close and I still haven’t posted the events from last weekend! I kicked it off on Friday night with the emerging writers event, and the following night proved to be another enjoyable evening. I was one of a half dozen authors featured at the New Jersey State Society’s (NJSS) Author Reception along with fellow biographer Al Felzenberg who wrote a biography of Tom Kean (Millicent Fenwick was the only person who defeated Kean –  leading Fenwick to Congress and Kean to the governorship); New Jersey Scholar Maxine Lurie (I blogged about her New Jersey Anthology back in April which featured a chapter excerpted from Millicent Fenwick: Her Way); Dr. Masood Hatamee; Stylist George Worrell; and children’s author, Tom Yezerski. He brings a fresh perspective about the environment and lessons learned to a young audience in his book Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story.  As always, NJSS Executive Director Nancy Fatemi orchestrated another great event.

Authors Masood Khatamee, Amy Schapiro, Tom Yezerski, Maxine Lurie,and Al Felzenberg at the NJSS Authors Reception

Sunday marked the first time the National Book Festival, started by First Lady Laura Bush, expanded to two days – thank goodness as it was the only day I made it! I never left the History & Biography tent. Highlights included friend and fellow Washington Biography Group member Kristie Miller who told the engaging tale of Woodrow Wilson and the two women in his life. Ellen Axson, his first wife, had more impact on the office of the First Lady then most realize. She is even responsible for the introduction of legislation to revamp alleys in the shadows of the Capitol that were in squalor. In fact her dying wish in 1914 was that Congress pass the Alley Bill, H.R. 13219, and later S. 1624. The Senate obliged.

Author Kristie Miller speaks at the National Book Festival

President Wilson’s second wife, Edith Bolling, is more widely remembered. Her primary focus as First Lady was quite different than Ellen’s. She did not take much of a vested interest in policy, her sole focus was her husband and adhering to his wishes. After President Wilson’s debilitating stroke in 1919, Edith made it her mission to keep her husband in office, per his desire, and, in the process she deceived the country and those in Congress about the president’s failing health. In Miller’s book, Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson’s First Lady, Miller juxtaposes these two women and presents a fascinating portrait that is contrary to popular belief about President Wilson and his two wives.

The big finale in the History & Biography tent was David MCullough. He enthralled the audience with his insight about education, history, and, of course, his latest book The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. As he said, “Not all pioneers went west.” During his talk, McCullough emphasized the importance of story telling and curiosity. “Curiosity is an essential element of the human being. The more we know the more we want to know.” How true.

Author David McCullough at the National Book Festival

Those of us in the audience were treated to a double dose of McCullough. Following his book talk, he did a 1-hour live Q & A with C-Span’s Senior Executive Producer, Peter Slen. You can watch it at: To hear Kristie Miller visit:

C-Span's Peter Slen hosts a Q&A with David McCullough at the National Book Festival, September 25, 2011


Emerging Writers

Recipients of the Emerging Writers Fellowship - Christopher Goodrich, Ellis Avery, and Angela Woodward

The lyricism of the written word sprang to life on Friday night at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Christopher Goodrich, Ellis Avery, and Angela Woodward were all celebrated as this year’s recipients of the Emerging Writers Fellowship held in conjunction with the 2011 Fall for the Book.

Angela and I met in Nebraska as fellows at the Kimmel Harding Nelson (KHN) Center for the Arts in Nebraska City, a small town that hosts an annual Applejack Festival and sports more museums than imaginable. Breaks from writing consisted of exploring the local offerings including a Meriweather Lewis and William Clark Visitor Center along the banks of the Missouri River where the two camped on July 18, 1804 as they were beginning their exploration west.

Our adventures at KHN were more sedentary as we primarily fed our respective art forms. One night the five artists in residence; including a photographer, a painter, a composer, and two writers (Angela and I) hosted an open house for each other. It is then that I heard Angela read passages that became her latest book, End of the Fire Cult, in which she transforms the reader to two imaginary worlds as the main characters part ways in divorce, but represented through the rival countries of The Free Republic of Marmoral and Belgrave. Hearing an author read from their own work adds another dimension and interpretation to their words that I’m not sure is duly recognized. But all three authors added such flair to their works by reading them aloud it was hard not to be transported to their imaginary and real worlds.

Poet Christopher Goodrich shared a sampling of his poetry demonstrating the human condition; joy, sorrow, and every day interactions. From a Frisbee accidentally hitting a passerby to the birth of his daughter, Goodrich’s poems captured the full range of emotion from the trivial to the triumphant. His most recent book Nevertheless, Hello is where you can read more of his poetic jewels.

Capping off the evening was Ellis Avery, a professor at Columbia University who was dubbed by New York Press as, “The best writer you’ve never heard of, but should go read right now.” On Friday night the audience understood why as she captivated us with a selection from her novel The Teahouse Fire and teased us with tales from her next novel, The Last Nude, being released in January.

Christopher, Ellis, Angela, and Sandra

One of the hosts of the evening was Writer Center Board Member, poet, and memoirist, Sandra Beasley whose memoir Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life debuted this summer to rave reviews with People calling it, “A sufferer’s witty, sobering account of living with life-threatening food allergies” and Publisher’s Weekly deeming it “Intelligent and witty…enthralling…thoughtful and well-written.”

Needless to say it was an inspiring evening celebrating those who artfully craft the written word into magically prose.

You’re Invited

Be sure to join the New Jersey State Society for a cocktail reception featuring New Jersey authors this Saturday, September 24, 5-7 pm at the Elephant & Castle Restaurant, 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC. Stop by after the National Book Festival on the Mall and enjoy complimentary appetizers and one free drink ticket per guest. Savor NJ’s own “OktoberFish” on tap from Flying Fish Brewery.  Although there is no charge for this fun event, we do urge you to bring your checkbook and buy a book. You can get a head start on your holiday gifts and ensure that the NJ State Society does this again next year. Hope to see you Saturday!

The following New Jersey authors will be signing and selling their books, including me:

Amy Schapiro, Millicent Fenwick: Her Way;

Al Felzenberg, Governor Tom Kean: From the New Jersey State House to the 911 Commission;

Dr. Masood Khatamee, Doctor are You Listening?;

Dr. Maxine Lurie, Mapping New Jersey, Encyclopedia of New Jersey, and New Jersey Anthology;

George Worrell, On the Other Side of Style;

Tom Yezerski, Meadowlands  (children’s illustrated book featured at National Book Festival)

Anniversary of Millicent Fenwick’s Death

Ten years ago today, in the wake of 9/11, and on the 9th anniversary of Millicent Fenwick’s death on Sept. 16, 1992, I got an unexpected surprise. My trusted laptop died. Kaput.  No warning.

In the five days since September 11, I was still glued to the television. I watched the horrific scenes and heroic stories unfold. As a distraction from reality, on the anniversary of Fenwick’s death, I started tinkering with my draft chapters of what became “Millicent Fenwick: Her Way.” Change this, move this, delete that. Backing up didn’t cross my mind. I was on auto-pilot. My laptop was not. It had a mind of its own.

On Sunday evening September 16, 2001, it crashed. This couldn’t be happening, not now. I tried customer service, but it was late and they were closed. The next day I brought my laptop to work and called customer service during my lunch break. Before I did, I tried turning it on yet again. It worked! I quickly saved the edited chapters in question and then just as quickly my glimmer of hope evaporated. The screen went dark. Again. This time for good.

I called Dell and they had me take apart my whole computer. You should have seen it. Pieces everywhere. The result of this handy work yielded some bad news. The motherboard was dead. I needed a new laptop. This was not welcome news. My manuscript was due at the end of the year. Compounding the problem was September 11. Individual orders like mine were held in a queque while Dell prioritized orders from those who were impacted directly by 9/11. How could one argue with that?

The fact that my laptop faltered on the anniversary of Millicent Fenwick’s death was not lost on me. I always thought it was Fenwick sending a message. I still do.

The Jackie Kennedy Tapes

Pearls draped her neck. She was tall, thin, poised, and spoke with a distinct air about her. She was a Republican, and, a Democrat. For this one description captures two very different women — Millicent Fenwick, the pipe-smoking grandmother in Congress, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Both were fiercely private, full of passion, and could captivate any audience with their trance-like voices and perfect diction. Both were also public figures. One was elected to congress, the other by virtue of marriage became the first lady of the nation.

This week, thanks to the JFK Library, the world is getting to hear Jackie Kennedy’s voice again and some of her inner-most thoughts. Millicent Fenwick would have rolled over in her grave if she heard the recently released tapes quoting Jackie as saying that “Women should never be in politics, we’re just not suited to it.”

Tidbits like this shed new light on history, but also have to be viewed within the context of the time, 1964, and examined within the full text of the transcript.  As a biographer, there is nothing more exciting then gathering the pieces of a life and putting them together. Caroline Kennedy clearly understands this. Kudos to her for releasing the unabridged recordings of her mother’s oral history with historian Arthur Schlesinger, conducted months after President Kennedy’s assassination, but sealed until today.

I can’t wait to read, and hear, more.


I’m lucky. I didn’t lose anyone on September 11, but people around me did. From a co-worker who lost a brother to friends who lost a groomsman (I was in their wedding party too), the memories never fade. Today the nation remembers, but we will never forget. Yet we go on.

The sky is blue, just as it was ten years ago, but it is hotter. Street closures in my neighborhood reminded me that it is also Adams Morgan Day, the longest running street festival in DC – 33 years and going strong. It is always held the second Sunday in September and today was no different.