Northshore Magazine

Northshore September 2015

Northshore magazine showcases the best that the North Shore of Boston, MA has to offer.

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42 | SEPTEMBER 2015 Gordon's books examine the lives of misunderstood historical figures. of the stories I was telling, I knew I wanted to go beyond line breaks and stanzas." It was in large part her teach- ing career that motivated Gordon to move on to her first book-length work. While searching for inspira- tion for a syllabus on American literature, Gordon stumbled upon a plaque commemorating the former Ipswich home of colonist Simon Bradstreet and his wife, "the Poetess Anne." To Gordon, it felt like a sign: She began to read Anne Bradstreet's work in earnest, even adding the relatively unknown poet's works to her syllabus. "I found a teacher in Anne Bradstreet," she says. "She took herself seriously, she had a self-deprecation that I identified with as a young woman, and I loved how smart and ambitious she was." Gordon's students agreed; when she read Anne Bradstreet's poetry to the class, they were hooked. "They thought she was fascinating. I couldn't believe that I'd never been taught her poetry before, and nei- ther had my students," says Gordon. Her discovery of Bradstreet proved a major turning point for Gordon, who embarked on a quest to tell the poet's story in her 2005 book, Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America's First Poet. "Anne Bradstreet's story really pro- pelled me into a significant life tran- sition. I was so drawn to her story and how she came to write in an oppressive situation. There's a cer- tain bravery inherent in that, and in the careers of many female writ- ers. As I write about them, I try to breathe life into their stories," says Gordon. Her next book, The Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths, tells the story of Hagar, the much-misunderstood woman in the biblical tale of Abraham. "I didn't TH E I R STORI ES HAVE SO M UCH TO TEACH US. AN N E BRADSTRE ET, HAGAR, MARY WOLLSTON ECRAFT, AN D MARY SH E LLEY—TH ESE ARE VOICES THAT HAVE BE E N SI LE NCE D." —Charlotte Gordon, Author care for the story as we think of it in the Western world, where Hagar is an unwanted, disenfranchised castoff. For the book, I explored different versions of the story. The Muslim version, for example, casts her in a much different light; she's a founder of a people, she's strong and empowered. It's so important to understand the complexities and layers of these women's stories," Gordon explains. Through her books, Gordon has become a sort of champion for misunderstood and overlooked women in history. "Their stories have so much to teach us," she says. "Anne Bradstreet, Hagar, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Mary Shel- ley—these are voices that have been silenced." Gordon immerses herself in her subjects' lives; for her, "it's almost like a marriage. I'm studying a writer or a historical figure and suddenly I can't find an existing book that answers the questions I have. That's when I know that I have a book to write." And that's how Romantic Out- laws was born. When she learned 18th-century feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and Frankenstein author Mary Shelley were mother and daughter, Gordon searched for a biography that would elucidate their connection and explain how the writ- ing of one influenced the writing of the other. She discovered something unlikely: Although Mary Shelley idol- ized her mother, their lives did not significantly overlap. Ten days after giving birth to her daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft died of childbirth- related illness. In Romantic Outlaws, Gordon explains how Wollstone- craft's fiercely feminist work lived on through her daughter's ground- breaking prose. "Both women were dedicated to the idea that women should have political, legal, financial, and artistic independence. This was an offensive idea in the 18th and 19th centuries; Mary Wollstonecraft was known by her contemporaries as a 'hyena in petticoats,'" says Gordon. Promoting her book locally, nationally, and worldwide, Gordon is still encouraged and inspired by her North Shore community. Now a professor at Endicott College, she's found great support through the school, and through other local academics and authors. "We have a wonderful, noncompetitive com- munity of supportive writers on the North Shore," she says. "There's a history of nonconventional artists in the Cape Ann area—take Anne Bradstreet, for instance. This envi- ronment makes it easy for me to fol- low my own path, and stick to what I find important and true." charlottegordon Book jacket courtesy of Random House CONTACT FAC ES

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