Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

Word for Word
Laurie Lisle, author
Raised in a traditional 1950s New England family, Laurie Lisle rejected the boundaries of her upbringing and followed her drive to write. Coming of age during the women’s liberation movement, she joined Newsweek shortly after it was sued for sexism, hoping to find new opportunities for women writers, but she had to fight for every step forward. Word for Word is the dramatic story of Lisle’s determination to become a published author, from her early days in journalism to writing her groundbreaking biographies of legendary artists Georgia O’Keeffe and Louise Nevelson. Lisle discusses the demands of writing honestly about others and herself while unflinchingly sharing successes, stumbling blocks, and relationships that threatened to silence her written voice. In this frank memoir, Lisle asks what a writer—or anyone devoted to self-expression in the arts—needs to flourish and find fulfillment in work and life. She shares insights from artists and other authors and reflects on the way nature nurtures a literary life. Throughout, she examines how the private and professional parts of a writer’s life intertwine, explores what enables words to flow and what stops them, and shows where the writing life can ultimately lead.
Lisle (Portrait of an Artist) plunges into memoir territory with this engaging chronological survey of her life’s work: the development of her own “writerly voice.” Organized in three parts, the narrative begins in Providence, where Lisle is raised in an upper-class, patriarchal family but defies tradition to pursue a college degree. That’s the first step in a career that takes her to Manhattan as one of Newsweek’s first female reporters, a job she leaves to become Georgia O’Keeffe’s biographer. Lisle examines how the legacy of an absent father and the birth of the second-wave feminist movement contributed to ongoing tensions, especially in her marriage and work, and she delves deeply into the challenges facing women writers across generations.

While telling her own story, Lisle often employs secondary sources, arguably transforming memoir into autobiography. Throughout, she characterizes the challenge of developing her own singular voice as the “ongoing bifurcation between my third- and first-person voices.” Word for Word exemplifies that battle, as her prose, while watertight and laced with insight, often discusses but doesn’t convey emotion. The contrast when she quotes her journals or poems, though, is revelatory: “What matter if others ignore or glorify this silver night? I see it as I do.” She, too, is moved by reading her younger self’s private thoughts: “At moments I applauded her daring or despaired at her hesitancy, gyrating from exhilaration about an insight to excruciating sadness about the loss of love.”

The book pulses with intellectual discussions, lived feminist history and its resultant tensions, and the fascinating literary milieu she encounters at writing retreats. She’s admirably frank about her inner world of vacillation (to have a child or abstain?) and the challenges of both writing and sustaining a career as she covers wide-ranging ground (youthful ambition, O’Keeffe, a visit to the Left Bank) and offers compelling insights and anecdotes of a writing life.

Takeaway: This unconventional memoir details one accomplished woman writer’s dedication to developing her voice.

Great for fans of: Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments, Rebecca Solnit's Recollections of My Nonexistence.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A