More details are available here, in the BIO newsletter.
BIO was born around the time I started my book project, and the organization has been a terrific resource for a novice biographer like me. The members, ranging from Pulitzer Prize winners to beginners, offer a wonderfully democratic network of encouragement and support.
The prize is named in memory of Hazel Rowley (1951-2011), born in London, educated in England and Australia, and a long-time resident of the United States.
Hazel Rowley was an enthusiast of BIO from its inception, understanding the need for biographers to help each other.
Before her untimely death, she wrote four distinguished books: Christina Stead: A Biography, a New York Times “Notable Book”; Richard Wright: The Life and Times, a Washington Post “Best Book”; Tȇte-à-Tȇte: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, translated into 12 languages; and Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage, an NPR pick.
Japan’s TBS network aired an hour-long cherry blossom program March 18 in which I discussed Eliza Scidmore’s role in bringing cherry trees to Washington. The film crew interviewed me at our home late last month. They were thrilled I had a first-edition copy of Scidmore’s 1892 book “Jinrikisha Days in Japan.”
I discussed Eliza Scidmore’s vision of creating a “Mukojima on the Potomac,” inspired by a mile-long avenue of cherry trees in Tokyo a century ago. I visited Mukojima in 2013.
Best to view this YouTube version with sound turned off. (Scidmore segment begins around minute 46 in full program and picks up again, after ads, at 53.)
From website of “Eliza’s Cherry Trees,” by Andrea Zimmerman (Pelican, 2011)
Thanks, Andrea Zimmerman, for adding Eliza Scidmire to the Internet meme of “women who persisted.”
On the floor of Congress this month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren opposed Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination as U.S. attorney by attempting to read a letter written by the late widow of Martin Luther King, Jr. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell cut off Warren, saying:
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
“She persisted” quickly became a bumper-sticker slogan on social media, prompting references to trailblazing women of the past. Women like Eliza Scidmore.
Andrea Zimmerman, in Washington for a book reading
In a Facebook posting, Andrea Zimmerman, author of the children’s book “Eliza’s Cherry Trees,” added Scidmore to the list of history’s defiantly successful women. As Andrea noted, it took Eliza 24 years to win support for her idea of planting Japanese cherry trees in the Potomac Park.
Eliza Scidmore was a young woman with a crazy idea, and the male park supervisors she approached with her suggestion brushed her off. Several times.
But she persisted. Eventually, she got her way by securing as an ally another gutsy woman of her day: First Lady Helen Taft. The cherry blossoms we enjoy every spring in Washington show how things turned out.
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora Grantham in “Downton Abbey”
OK, fellow “Downtown Abbey” addicts, I managed to find a connection between the TV series and the subject of my biography in progress, the 19th-century American travel writer Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore. The line runs through Cora Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), the American-born mistress of Downton Abbey.
Julian Fellowes, the show’s writer, has said Cora was meant to represent the many rich American heiresses of the late 19th century who married into the British aristocracy. The press dubbed them “dollar princesses.”
The most famous of them was Mary Leiter, who led a glamorous life as Lady Curzon. Her father was a wealthy dry goods merchant from Chicago who made a fortune in partnership with the department store mogul Marshall Field.
Fellowes stressed that he didn’t model Cora specifically on Mary Leiter. But there are many parallels in their lives. And Eliza Scidmore’s world intersected with that of Mary Leiter.
American heiress Mary Leiter, who became Lady Curzon
Elizabeth Foxwellhas 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.
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 →
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.
By the Tidal Basin in Washington with reporter Miki Ebara, in front of the first two cherry trees from Japan planted on March 27, 1912, and a 300-year-old lantern from Japan (Source: NHK TV)
A busy Saturday. I just spent five hours with a film crew from the New York bureau of Japan’s NHK television, talking about my research on Eliza Scidmore.
Miki Ebara, the chief correspondent in New York, first contacted me a year ago not long after I launched this blog. She covers disasters as part of her duties and was familiar with Eliza Scidmore’s reporting on the great tsunami on the northeast coast of Japan in 1896.
Miki and I reconnected several weeks ago when I started thinking about making a trip to Japan for some necessary research. Cherry blossom season seemed the best time to go, so things have moved along very quickly. I’m off early next week. First trip to Japan.
Because she shares my fascination with Eliza, Miki decided to do a news feature on the cherry trees in Washington with a segment on my research and what I’ve learned about Eliza’s life. The show is scheduled to air on March 30, when the trees in Japan should be at peak bloom.