|The Sunday Gazette|
Arts & Entertainment
03/12/06 Page G?
An Interview with Karenna Gore Schiff
Karenna Gore Schiff, the oldest daughter of Al and Tipper Gore, acknowledged that the idea for her first book came about after her disillusionment from the results of the 2000 presidential election.
“I had become so disappointed in the political process, and this was after being in it for my whole life,” she said in a recent phone interview from her home in New York City. “I wanted to find a project that might restore some joy and love of politics, so I decided to focus on some people who were able to keep politics grounded in public service and in the process do some remarkable things.”
Her book “Lighting the Way: Nine Women Who Changed Modern America” (528 pages, $23.35, Miramax Books) profiles influential women who fought inequality and tried to make the United States a better place in the twentieth century.
Some of the women include Mother Jones, who organized coal miners and campaigned against child labor, Frances Perkins, who worked to establish social security programs, Septima Clark, who helped to register black voters in the South, and Dolores Huerta, who organized agricultural laborers and launched the influential 1968 grape boycott in our country.
On Tuesday she will visit the New York State Writers Institute and read from her new book at 8 pm at Page Hall on the University at Albany’s downtown campus. Earlier that day she will present an informal seminar at Assembly Hall of the uptown university’s Campus Center.
“I had a lot of fun writing this book,” said Gore Schiff. “What was difficult was deciding which women to profile. I had to eliminate some phenomenal people.”
She also wanted to profile some women who were not very well known to the public, which is why someone like Eleanor Roosevelt is not included.
“These women had such inspirational stories,” said Gore Schiff, “and many of their stories are forgotten today. Someone like Septima Clark touched the lives of many people including a young Rosa Parks, and her impact is often forgotten today when one thinks of great civil rights leaders.”
Gore Schiff remembers as a young girl wanting to see more female faces in the history books she was reading. “I always thought there were many women who were doing consequential things but were not being represented,” she said.
She suspected there were many other women like her grandmother Pauline LaFon Gore, who worked tirelessly for and with her husband during his time in Congress from 1938 through 1972. “My grandmother was involved in many important political events,” said Gore Schiff, “but she often went unnoticed.”
As she came up with her list of nine women she was amazed to discover in her research how similar many of them were even though so many of them lived in different time periods. “Most of these women were harassed throughout their lives by those in power,” said Gore Schiff. “They were often accused of not being patriotic. They were often called traitors, and they were all proud of being women and mothers.”
According to Gore Schiff these women never let their gender trap them. “In fact,” she said, “many of them used their femininity as a source of power, as a way to reach out and get their message across.”
All of them faced personal tragedy, and many of them suffered the loss of the people they loved the most such as their children and their spouses. “But like FDR, who gained so much strength from his battle with polio, these women were strengthened because of their tragedies,” said Gore Schiff.
What also impressed the author was how these women were able to combine their roles of being a wife and a mother with their public servant role. “I could have written so much more about these women, their issues and the time period,” said Gore Schiff, “but I wanted to keep each section at a manageable length.”
Her book, which began as a sort of therapy to overcome her political malaise, seems to have worked wonders for her. “Collecting these stories has given me real hope once again in the political process,” said Gore Schiff. “These women have all shown me that it’s admirable to disagree with the direction of the country when it’s being led in the wrong way by those in power. These women had every opportunity to completely give up on the political process, but they didn’t. These women have shown me that individual actions along with many years of tireless work can bring about some cataclysmic effects.”
Writing this book has also been a good way for her to learn about so many diverse time periods of American history. “I learned so much about coal mining and yellow fever, and of course, the civil rights struggle,” she said. “I’m not an academic, but I think this book could be helpful for students studying these women and these time periods.”
Gore Schiff would like to write another book. “I’m fascinated by American history and American politics,” she said. “I’d also love to write a book about Davy Crockett. I think my next book will have a different focus. I think it might be something a bit shorter.”
Since her graduation from Harvard University in 1995, Gore Schiff has gotten a law degree from Columbia University, and has worked as a journalist and lawyer, and most recently as the Director of Community Affairs for the Association to Benefit Children. “With two young children writing fits my schedule very well right now,” she said.
But she hasn’t ruled out a future in politics. “Reading about these women and writing about them has reminded me that politics could be an exciting career,” she said. “It’s not for me now, but if it seems like the right path for me in the future I might go in that direction.”