November 19, 1995
STREETS: A Memoir of the Lower East Side
By Bella Spewack
Feminist Press, 1995
In the early 1920’s, Bella Spewack wrote an unsentimental, almost humorless memoir of growing up a poor Jewish immigrant on the Lower East Side, but did not publish it. At the time she was a young reporter based in Berlin and did not know that fame and comfort awaited her as part of the husband-and-wife team of Sam and Bella Spewack, who would write hit shows like “Boy Meets Girl” and “Kiss Me Kate.” In her memoir, Mrs. Spewack described airless, overcrowded tenements with boarders rotating in day and night shifts, as well as a little girl’s perplexing exposure to a too-adult, sometimes violent world of sexual desire. She relived the burdens and humiliation of being the oldest of three children of a single mother, dependent for survival on the chilly and degrading generosity of charity. She recreated the wearying hopelessness of that youth, but also the wonder and possibility injected into it through the existence of public libraries and public schools. Her voice is strong and individual. Her executors did well to bring the story to publication now, five years after her death at the age of 91.
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The Suffragents won the Gold Medal in US History in the 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was a finalist for the 2018 Sally and Morris Lasky Prize, presented by the Center for Political History. See “Summer Camp Newsletters” and Facebook posts from book-related appearances. Reviews, notices, and articles about my books are under their titles here. My articles are here.
January 29: Exhibition Opening Remarks: “Women Get the Vote: A Historic Look at the Nineteenth Amendment,“New York Society Library. February 23: “Public Values in Conflict with Animal Agribusiness Practices,” UCLA Law School, Los Angeles. March 13:“ The Suffragents,” Scarsdale Woman’s Club, Scarsdale NY. March 24: League of Women Voters, Albany County at the Bethlehem (NY) Public Library. March 25: “Judges, Lawyers, and Women’s Suffrage: Recognizing the Men Who Stood with Women on the Front Lines,” Gender Fairness Committee of the Third Judicial District, CLE, NY State Courts at SUNY Albany Law School, Albany NY. May 15: “The Republican Suffragents,” National Women’s Republican Club, New York City. August 7: “From Emma Goldman to the Marketplace of Ideas: Marking the 100th Anniversary of Free Speech at the Supreme Court,.” AEJMC, Toronto.