My husband and I recently watched a powerful film called “The Railway Man,” starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. It was interesting in light of my work on a biography of Eliza Scidmore.
Her last book was As the Hague Ordains, a novel about POW conditions in Japan in 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War. “The Railway Man” is based on a true story of Japanese treatment of a British Army officer captured in Singapore during World War II. Together, they present a sharp contrast. Continue reading
Elizabeth Foxwell has spent much of her career immersed in mystery and crime fiction. She’s a scholar of the genre, has won an Agatha Award for her stories, reviews mysteries for Publisher’s Weekly, and is managing editor of Clues: A Journal of Detection.
Elizabeth Foxwell reads at One More Page Books in Arlington, Va. (Photo: Diana Parsell)
She took a very different turn in her latest project: an anthology of writings by American women who served in World War I. Titled In Their Own Words , it uses letters, journal entries, and articles to present a cross-section of women’s experiences in the war.
Eliza Scidmore appears in the book, among half a dozen female war correspondents.
Eliza was in Japan in the summer of 1914 when Japan declared war on Germany. She published an article in The Outlook magazine describing Japan’s entry into the war as an ally of France and Russia. Foxwell read an excerpt from it during an author’s talk last night at One More Page Bookstore in Arlington, Va.
Eliza Scidmore has made her debut appearance on LibriVox.
I discovered LibriVox a couple of years ago and am now a big fan. It’s a free online service of audio books recorded from titles in the public domain. The concept is especially wonderful because all the books are recorded by volunteers. The readers are people from around the world. A big, beautiful universe of book lovers.
LibriVox is great for easing my resistance to gym workouts on the treadmill. I’ve found it’s also a nice, soothing way to “read” in bed on a winter night before falling asleep.
I’ve been working my way through some of the classics I missed. So far: Middlemarch (tough to absorb in audio of mixed narrators, so I followed along in a paperback), several Edith Wharton novels and Uncle Tom’s Cabin (the reader was brilliant, quite theatrical in his reading). A recent listen was one of my all-time favorite books, Willa Cather’s My Antonia. Also have on my download list some works by John Muir and the British travel writer Isabella Bird. Continue reading
Robert Caro at 2011 BIO conference in Washington
I’m grateful to Steve Weinberg, a journalist and biographer (and one of my former journalism school profs at the U. of Missouri), for flagging this article in The Daily Beast. It describes the evolution of legendary biographer Robert Caro’s first book: ‘The Power Broker’ Turns 40: How Robert Caro Wrote a Masterpiece.
The book is huge—1,200 pages. Intimidating. But based on this article, I’m inspired to track it down and study Caro’s style.
Caro’s keynote speech on the craft of biography impressed me three years ago at a Biographers International Organization conference in Washington. He talked about the importance of place and setting.
[I]f the place, the setting, played a crucial role in shaping the character’s feelings, drives, motivations, insecurities, then by describing the place well enough, the author will have succeeded in bringing the reader closer to an understanding of the character …
The message resonated with me because I’ve focused a lot on conveying a sense of place in the first two draft chapters of my biography of Eliza Scidmore.
Whether novice or experienced, biographers have a great resource in Biographers International Organization. It was founded five years ago by Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer James McGrath Morris and others to provide collegiality and support.
I’ve attended three of BIO’s annual conferences. This year’s, held in Boston in May, was the best yet. Three colleagues from my book-writing group were also there. And on a research jaunt to the Boston Public Library I found — buried in an archive — a very important letter by Eliza Scidmore.
At the 2014 BIO conference in Boston, with Washington book-writing colleagues, from left, Bonny Miller, Sonja Williams, me and Cheryl LaRoche.
Good news today. Just got the word that I’ll be speaking on Eliza Scidmore at the 39th Annual Conference on D.C. Historical Studies in October.
This year’s conference is focusing on several centennial events in Washington, including the anniversary of the first Japanese cherry trees planted in Potomac Park. Joining me on a panel will be Ann McClellan, the author of a new book from National Geographic on the cherry trees, and John Malott, a former U.S. ambassador who now heads the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C.
We’ll describe our respective research on several people whose critical roles in the planting of the trees has been little known— Eliza Scidmore; USDA botanist David Fairchild and his wife, Daisy; and Japanese chemist Jokichi Takamine.
Almost no one realizes that Eliza Scidmore grew up in Washington, so I’m looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned.
Women’s History Month begins this week. The Center for the Book at the Library of Congress is helping to kick off things with a presentation Friday afternoon, March 2, on a new scholarly work, Right Here I See My Own Books, about the special woman’s library assembled for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
I seemed to recall from my research that Eliza Scidmore reported on the fair. Revisiting my notes, I found an article she wrote for the Aug. 19 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, a magazine she was contributing to regularly at the time.
It also made me wonder whether her work was represented in the woman’s library. I checked an online list of the titles. And yes, Eliza Scidmore was included!
The library contained copies of the three books she had published by that time: Alaska and the Sitkan Archipelago, Jinrikisha Days in Japan and Westward to the Far East. Continue reading
Writing is never easy, and the long-haul process of writing a book — especially if it’s your first — can feel overwhelming at times. When I started thinking about a book on Eliza Scidmore, I decided to do what I’ve always done when there’s something I’m not sure I can easily figure out on my own: take a class. I feel fortunate to live in Washington with access to so many great literary resources.
Here’s my shout-out to a few people I’m especially grateful to for their help as I try my wings in a new genre. Continue reading
I’m not the only one with a fixation on Eliza Scidmore. After I began researching her I met two other women equally fascinated by her remarkable life. Washington writer Ann McClellan learned a lot about Eliza while writing The Cherry Blossom Festival, published in 2005 as a souvenir book for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Hearing about my project, a colleague in the Women’s History Discussion Group at the Library of Congress put me in touch with Ann, a friend of hers. Then earlier this year I met Andrea Zimmerman, soon after the launch of her children’s book Eliza’s Cherry Trees. We all agreed: Eliza was quite a gal. Continue reading