Friday, December 7, 2007

Bella Studies

No matter what you think of her, you couldn't ask for a better book promoter than Rosie O'Donnell (ok, maybe Oprah, but Rosie's not far behind). And watching Rosie talk to a group of 11 year olds at a feminist anniversary conference, well, I'll admit, it gives me the chills.

In the clip posted here, a bespeckled 11-year old African American girl named Nia asks Rosie what inspired her to be at the conference. And Rosie answers, "Bella Abzug." When Nia says she has no idea who that is, Rosie hands her Suzanne Braun Levine and Mary Thom's new book, Bella Abzug, and says sternly: "You are going to write me. You understand missy? You are going to learn who Bella Abzug was and then, in about 15 years, I'm going to vote for you when you're running for office." Vintage Rosie.

And the new oral history just out from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux is vintage Bella. It makes sense that a history of this wonderfully raging feminist who a Time Out New York reviewer calls the "progressive grand dame" with just a touch of the Mommie Dearest relies on cumulative testimonial. Says lifelong friend Gloria Steinem, lovingly I am sure: “She scared the shit out of me.”

I never had a chance to meet Bella personally, but after reading this book, I feel like I have. The authors, Suzanne Braun Levine and Mary Thom, edited scads of interviews into a "conversation." In their words:

[T]he story unfolds through anecdote, embellishment, contradiction, flashback and flash-forward, asides, commentary, speculation--as if the wide-ranging and ill-assorted cast of characters were gathered around a fireplace reminiscing about someone who stomped into their lives and left an indelible mark.

It's an interesting way to tell the story of a life. And the story revealed sheds light on many compelling personalities who shared moments in Bella's political legacy--feminist and beyond. As Levine and Thom highlight in their introduction, the book "speaks to a particularly powerful moment in which vital social movements converged in the second half of the twentieth century, every one of which featured Bella as a catalyst and creative force." It's that larger story, as much as the story of this remarkably human super-shero, that makes this book required reading for anyone seeking to learn more about an era that indelibly shaped our own.

If you don't know who Bella was, ya need this book. If you know who she was or knew her personally, you'll definitely want this book. And for those looking to take Bella Studies a step further, the Jewish Women's Archive has great material just waiting to be mined.


Judith said...

I can't wait to read this book! Bella is such a monumental figure, and it makes me sad that so many people (and so many feminists) don't know who she is. I hope this book will change that.

thanks for the link to the Jewish Women's Archive, too. (Our Women of Valor poster of her is pretty kick-ass, too. It hangs over my desk -- along with our Emma Goldman poster -- and the two of them keep me inspired daily.)

Rebecca Segall said...

Thank you so much for sharing the clip of the Rosie O'Donnell show! When she told the little girl that she was going to vote for her in 15 years, I got the chills, too. The Children's Press Line is doing amazing things--as is Rosie. I love your blog.

Deborah Siegel said...

Hi Judith--kudos on all that you do over at the Jewish Women's Archive. Such incredibly important work. That poster series sounds pretty hot. And thanks for the props, Rebecca! I was wondering what The Children's Press Line is--will have to check it out now, for sure.