Word for Word: A Writer’s Life

Artemis Editions. May 2021. 229p. ISBN 9781735980119. $29.95. MEMOIR
Lisle (Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe) draws on extensive personal archives and her training as a journalist to recount a career shaped by second-wave feminism. With references to Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Virginia Woolf, and Betty Friedan, the author ties her life to literature, finding guidance and solidarity in the work of women writers. Her interest in language is apparent; she pinpoints the origins of staple terms of contemporary language, such as “sexism,” and the social title “Ms.” At times stretched thin by an effort to capture the many historical events of the 1960s and ’70s, Lisle’s memoir finds its stride when the author recounts her experience of working at Newsweek soon after the publication had settled a lawsuit for workplace gender discrimination. Hers is a story that navigates the mixed opportunities of an era that, for white women, offered wider choices of identity, employment, and bodily autonomy.
VERDICT Lisle’s limited discussion of her own creative process may leave some readers wanting, but others will enjoy the frank discussion of her successes and disappointments pursuing a “writer’s life.”
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