June 14, 2018
I met Judith Berdy, the director of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society months ago, in Albany, during the New York State Suffrage centennial celebration period. She asked me to come speak to her group not about The Suffragents, but about my first book, Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist, published nearly a quarter of a century ago. I relished the opportunity she offered to pull my Bly files out of the basement archive, reflect on those images and her life once again, and share what I retrieved with some willing listeners.
Nellie was not only the subject of my first book but she was my childhood idol, thanks to a juvenile biography about her that I read when I was nine or ten. At the Roosevelt Island Public Library on Thursday, June 14, 2018, I pressed my case that her entire life is really the best way to tell her story, despite the repeated propensity of other authors and filmmakers to zero in on only one of two major episodes in her life—namely, the insane asylum expose or her lightning trip around the world to beat the fictional record of Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days.” Both feats were performed in the her first 2 1/2 years as a New York city reporter and indeed, may have turned her life into legend, but what precedes and succeeds these momentous reportorial events is, to my mind, all the more interesting and important.
Here’s the whole 45-minute presentation, Nellie Bly: womb to tomb:
And here is the link to an excerpt from Penny Lane’s forthcoming animated documentary about Bly, “Nellie Bly Makes the News,” that I refer to at the end of the presentation. I appear as myself, albeit with an allergy-scratched throat, and represented by a not-so-flattering avatar. But I have to say just having one is pretty cool, don’t you think?
Thanks again to Judith and to the library for hosting what turned out to be a lovely event. In the weeks before the scheduled date, announcements appeared on the historical society site, in the Roosevelt Island Daily, the New York History Blog, the New York Public Library site and the Roosevelt Islander.
The library was hopping when I arrived, small children playing chess, teenagers watching anime on a laptop, preschoolers romping around in the children’s area. You can’t imagine how much activity takes place in that way-too-small space. (A new library is slated to begin construction but dates unknown.) Justin, the librarian, managed to keep everything and everyone in check, right up until the library’s closing time at 6pm.
The lecture was scheduled for 6:30pm and the room quickly began to fill to beyond capacity. Thanks to Judith and Justin or organizing such a fine event.
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For National History Day contestants. Upcoming — January 30: Iona College. February 4: Sagamore Hill. March 27: Ephemera Society of America. March 30: TBA April 4: Avon-on-Sea Public Library, Avon CT June 4-6: “Métiers et professions des médias (XVIIIe-XXIe siècles),” Université de Lausanne. Link to past appearances.
Coming March 2020: Front Pages, Front Lines: Media and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage, Linda Steiner, Carolyn Kitch, Brooke Kroeger, eds.