Bacon on the Bookshelf

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The Woman’s Hour: Interview with Elaine Weiss

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The Nashville Public Library chose The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote as our citywide read this summer. I’m late to this party, but many friends and acquaintances have told me that it’s important, compelling, and DELICIOUS reading! Author Elaine Weiss will speak at the library on August 18th, which not so coincidentally is the 99th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment (more details here). I’m delighted for her to stop in at Bacon for a short interview.

Thank you so much for spending some time in the Bacon Neighborhood today, Elaine!

Please tell me about your book, and why you wrote it…

The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote is the dramatic story of the battle for the last state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting the vote to American women. Unfolding during six turbulent weeks in Nashville in the summer of 1920, the story follows three fascinating women summoned to lead the campaign for – and against – ratification, and in the telling, brings to life the characters and themes of the entire seven-decade crusade for woman suffrage. The fight in Nashville turns ugly, and the outcome remains in doubt until the very last moment, in this political and cultural fight over women’s role and power.

I wrote the book because I realized that I – and my highly educated friends – knew nothing about how we, as American women, had won the right to vote. It was a long bitter fight – three generations of women campaigning over seven decades – and even in 1920, it was not a sure thing. It is such an important part of our national history, and it is not well known or understood. I wanted to tell the history as a story, with a narrative arc and strong female characters, to make the history vivid and the themes relevant to today.

The book took three and a half years to research and write, with another six months of editing with my fantastic editor at Viking. Then came copyediting, design, production and marketing, as usual for a major publishing house.

I want The Woman’s Hour to acquaint readers with the amazing effort to win political equality for American women: how long it took, how hard it was, how bitter the fight, how intense the opposition from men – and from some women. I also want the book to inspire all citizens to not only exercise their hard-won right to vote, but to also protect the vote for all citizens – as voting rights are threatened anew.

Is your heart always with the Suffragettes? Are there any of the Antis that you came to understand, or empathize with?

I think the arguments of the Antis – women opposed to women’s rights and enfranchisement – are important to understand, as their attitudes are still echoing in society today.

Should men read The Women’s Hour? (I know, silly question, but I just want to give you a chance to make the case!)

Absolutely! This is book is a political thriller – with lots of deal-making, double-crosses, betrayals, and heroism. Many male readers write to tell me how much they enjoyed the book. This is a book about a pivotal moment in American history, and men play the decisive role – only men were in positions of power to make the decisions about who could vote!! So among the important characters readers will meet are Frederick Douglass, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Warren G. Harding, as well as many Tennessee men. Women always read books about men; men should enjoy a story about women warriors and politicians.

I understand that you live in Baltimore. How much time have you spent in Nashville? I imagine quite a lot…

I began my research in Nashville in the summer of 2013 – my story takes place in the heat of Nashville summer, and I wanted to experience it, as it plays a role in the characters’ reactions – and I spent almost all of my time in the State Library and Archives building, as well as the statehouse, Union Station, and the Hermitage Hotel, the sites where much of the action of the story takes place. I’ve returned numerous times, for additional research, as well as for the dedication of Suffrage Monument in Centennial Park, and then for the launch of The Woman’s Hour at Parnassus books in March 2018. I’ve also come to Nashville several times in the past year to help launch the fantastic new Votes for Women room at the Nashville Public Library, and to celebrate the library’s choice of The Woman’s Hour as the city’s summer book club book, I’ll be in Nashville again on the weekend of August 16-19 for Salon@615. I’ll be returning several times in the coming year, too – and looking forward to it!

I always love to imagine a writer at work on her book. What are your writing habits? Do you write in the morning, the afternoon, the evening, all day? 

I begin writing in mid-morning, at about 9:30 am, and then work, with only breaks for a quick lunch, then making dinner. I usually return to the desk after dinner until about midnight. In the most intense phase of writing the book I worked weekends, holidays, all the time. I try to minimize distractions, don’t even listen to music. I drink a cup of coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and water in between.

What are you reading right now?

I am reading Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, and Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black.

I am crazy about The Library Book!

And – what’s your next project?

To be determined.

I hear you! I look forward to seeing you on the 18th!

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Author photo by Nina Subin

Elaine Weiss is an award-winning journalist and writer, and her by-line has appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, New York Times, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as reports and documentaries for National Public Radio and Voice of America. She has been a frequent correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor.

Her first book, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army in the Great War was excerpted in Smithsonian Magazine online and featured on C-Span and public radio stations nationwide.

Elaine enjoys swimming and kayaking, has two grown children, and loved reading histories and biographies as a child. Please see her website for more.

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And here’s some more information on the Votes for Women Project at the Nashville Public Library:

It Happened Here

Nashville, we’re on hallowed ground. Ninety-nine years ago, women across America won their right to vote when Tennessee lawmakers cast a tie-breaking decision to ratify the 19th Amendment right here in downtown Nashville.

 The Power of Women

The women who fought for the 19th Amendment changed the way future generations of women and girls could be heard and counted in our country.

 The Power of Voting

In the end, this magnificent change came down to a single person: a Tennessee lawmaker who cast his ballot for ratification. The reason? A letter from his mom.

The Power of … Power

Nearly a century later, what are we fighting for? Which voices must still be heard? Who must still be counted?

The Votes For Women Project is an interactive exploration of the power of women and girls, the power of voting, and the power of power itself. It’s set to open at the Main Library in downtown Nashville in 2020.

Statue commemorating women’s suffrage by Alan LeQuire, unveiled in 2016 (Centennial Park, Nashville, TN).

5 Comments

  1. Great post! A must read.

  2. Sounds like not only a great read, but also a great gift for many I know! When I think how too many Americans take voting for granted, knowing our history is an act of civic duty.

  3. What an interesting piece! Parnassus Books will have a discussion at the store on Wed, Aug 21 of this book. Time is 6:30pm.

  4. Agree-this sounds like a must read. I loved The Library Book as well. You may already be aware, but the head librarian at the LA Central Library at the time of the fire was Elizabeth Teoman, a member of my class at Vanderbilt. There’s always a Nashville connection, right?!

  5. Terrific jennifer!!! Tennessee was so very important in this endeavor. She is a terrific writer.

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