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Women’s History Month Review: AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder

March has been Women’s History Month, so I’ve been seeing images of famous women of history in various places. It is a topic of interest to me. I like history, and I am a woman, and I am fascinated by all the ways women find their power and their voice in eras where they aren’t afforded many opportunities. It’s what inspired me to write my novel, Searching for Silverheels, which centers on women of a variety of callings, who find their own ways to be strong.

But all month, I’ve been thinking about one woman in particular, thanks to this wonderful book that came out in January of this year.

AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder.

Audacity_front cover

AUDACITY is the story of Clara Lemlich, a poor, eastern European, Jewish immigrant, who came to American at the turn of the twentieth century, and became the pivotal voice in the garment workers’ strikes of New York. Those strikes would play a critical role in reshaping labor law in America.

I had never thought too much about what distinguished Clara Lemlich from so many of the other women who are celebrated during this month every year, until I went to the release of AUDACITY, and listened to Melanie Crowder talk about what inspired her to write this book. She mentioned that she was drawn to Clara’s story because, unlike so many of the suffragists and other women reformers of the 19th and 20th centuries, Clara was neither wealthy nor educated. She did not achieve change from a privileged position that gave her power, but rose from the very working classes that she sought to protect. In fact, the title of the book comes from a quote from Lemlich herself, who said that all she had to get her through was audacity.

Clara Lemlich was a truly remarkable woman, and her story is a remarkable story. Those are two of the reasons why AUDACITY is a remarkable book. But those are not the only two reasons.Clara Lemlich 1910.jpg

This is a novel in verse, a story told in a series of first person poems, that track the life of a young Jewish girl, from her homeland in Russia, where Jews lived in fear of the violent pagrams, across the ocean in the filthy bowels of a ship with the poorest of travelers, to the shores of a new land, where the American dream consisted of urban poverty and low-paying work in horrible conditions. Though the realities of life were harsh, Crowder has given a fierce beauty to Lemlich’s voice through spare, lyrical verse that soars with dreams here, is pinned down by the realities of poverty, violence and injustice there. Lemlich comes alive as a painfully real person, with daring dreams, and hard realities that make those dreams beyond her reach. It is the story of hard choices, realistically made. Of hard victories, won with blood and sweat and tears. It is a beautifully told story of what it truly means to be a hero.

Women’s history month is almost over, but there is still plenty of time to pick up and read Melanie Crowder’s AUDACITY. You won’t be sorry that you did. Be prepared to have a new favorite hero in your life.

 

AUDACITY,  Melanie Crowder.  Philomel Books, 2015.  ISBN 9780399168994