Thursday, December 24, 2020

Audacity, by Melanie Crowder

Clara Lemlich, an early labor organizer in New York and leader in the Triangle Shirtwaist Uprising, is the subject of this biography in verse.  Tracing the story of her life from a shtetl in Russia and her family's immigration to the United States to her involvement in organization women in New York's sweatshops, Clara makes an compelling subject.

Struggling against sexism, tradition, racism, and economic injustice to realize her dreams, it's a battle that one cannot truly say that she ever won, which makes the decision to tell her story in verse particularly poignant.  So much of what she faced and fought with goes unsaid in this novel.  For those parts of her life left in ellipses, a brief biographical essay and the transcript of the author's interview with her descendants fill in some details.

The verse is occasionally ambitious but overall sufficient to convey the action of the story and pull our focus to Clara's personality, accent her drive and ambition, and call out her doubts.  Faced with so many obstacles, she is particularly ravaged by regrets as the failures of her actions and the costs of those failures start to pile up.  Verse gives us the silent spaces and moments of reflection that a more standard text would have felt compelled to push through.  And so my usual skepticism about the format is set aside.  This is a good book, providing an inspirational approach to labor history and the role of women activists in the labor movement.  Recommended.

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