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Story of the Week

Jessica Posner and Kennedy Odede Transform Africa’s Largest Urban Slum

Jessica Posner and Kennedy Odede/Photo from Jessica's book Find Me Unafraid

Jessica Posner and Kennedy Odede

By Laurie McAndish King (@LaurieKing)/January 12, 2016
TWITTER for Jessica and Kennedy: @hope2shine

Jessica Posner grew up a middle-class American in Denver. She hadn’t seen much of the world, and when she had an opportunity to study overseas she chose to do political theater work in Kenya. Jessica ended up living in a slum with no streets, no toilets, no running water, no electricity and no public services. Then she got malaria.

“No one believed Jessica could survive,” Kennedy Odede, her husband, says. “Every morning my friends knocked on my door and asked: Is she dead, or is she alive?”

find=me-unafraid-kennedy-odede-jessica-posnerJessica Posner and Kennedy Odede’s lives are linked by one unlikely circumstance after another. They met when Jessica was taking a junior year abroad and Kennedy was organizing street theater to raise awareness about sexual violence in his community. Kennedy lived in a Nairobi slum called Kibera, a warren of hopelessness the size of Central Park.

Jessica and Kennedy were in America together, celebrating the launch of the book they co-wrote, Find Me Unafraid — Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum. A friend had told me about their remarkable story, so I was excited to hear the couple speak at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California.

It’s hard to imagine two people more different on the surface. Jessica wears a stylish dress; her animal-print pumps have three-inch spike heels. Reserved on stage, she lets Kennedy do most of the talking.

Kennedy speaks with animation and charisma. Until a few years ago he’d had so little exposure to Western culture that he was astonished by the abundance of a school cafeteria and the luxury of hot running water.

Jessica and Kennedy tell us about the work they have done together, which sounds like a minor miracle: setting up and running a free school for girls in the slum, making clean water and medical care accessible and helping dozens of individuals start small businesses.

It hasn’t been easy. Kennedy grew up in extreme poverty, taking to the streets and using drugs when he was just 10 years old to help alleviate the pain of his situation.

“I had a job in a factory where I earned $1 for 10 hours,” Kennedy says. “I saw people getting old in their jobs. My best friend was shot and killed by the police; my sister was abused. I was sad and angry and hopeless.”


But Kennedy Odede was also resourceful, resilient and determined. He read A Testament of Hope: the Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., and was inspired to build a better future.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that,” he read in King’s book. “Faith is taking the first step, even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”

Kennedy realized that the people of Kibera needed to solve their own problems, and he was determined to do just that.

“Where are the donors? Where is the money?” his friends asked. “You are crazy!”

“This is not a non-profit,” Kennedy responded. “This is a movement. We do not need donors to clean our streets. We do not need donors talk about issues that affect us.”

Odede was off to a strong start. He bought a twenty-cent soccer ball and started a team to give people something constructive to do. He organized neighborhood clean-ups and street theater. He raised awareness about sexual violence.

He co-founded a youth group called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) and got his fellow citizens talking about how to improve their living conditions. “I got elected mayor of Kibera,” Kennedy says, sounding a little surprised.

jessica Posner and Kennedy Odebe at Book Passage Oct. 2015/from Laurie King

Kennedy and Jessica speaking at Book Passage/10-15

Then Jessica turned up. She moved into Odede’s cramped home, reasoning that it would be hypocritical to live in comfort outside the slum while she was working with the people of Kibera. The two strategized, and decided that if they could change the realities for women and children, everything else would follow. They would open a free school for girls, starting with the youngest, the brightest and the most vulnerable children.

Jessica knew how to apply for grants in America. She had friends whose families donated money. She raised $10,000 to start, and Kennedy worked with community members to arrange a small space for the school.

It had to be free in order to reach the girls most in need, but the school wasn’t set up as a charity. The students’ parents contribute their time — five work-weeks each year — in exchange for the girls’ education. Some of the students are orphans, so friends or relatives donate time for them. Brothers, sisters, cousins and neighbors all work together to help the school and build community.

Jessica and Kennedy hired the best teachers in Kenya, and after just a year their students were speaking good English. Opportunities were opening up, and the community began to understand the value of educating girls.

Eunice Akoth’s Dream: A poem from a 5th grade student at the Kibera School for Girls

The Kibera School for Girls  is adding one grade each year; eventually it will go through 8th grade. After that, the school will try to arrange admissions to high schools, boarding schools and even college for all its graduates.

The school made even more sense when Jessica and Kennedy added a health clinic and a source of clean water. TWE first interviewed Jessica in 2010, when the clinic had just opened. Services now include primary preventive care, women’s and children’s services, HIV care and a child nutrition program.

By including holistic services so all members of the community benefitted directly, they made the school into a portal for large-scale social change.

Jessica Posner at new health center, Kenya

Jessica Posner at the new health center

New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Nicholas Kristof, who writes about human rights, women’s rights and global affairs, has helped publicize Jessica and Kennedy’s work. Now even the government wants to help. (“They want our votes,” Kennedy clarifies.)

And since they have demonstrated what is possible, Jessica and Kennedy are getting requests from young people across Kenya — and around the world — to replicate SHOFCO and the school for girls. “Young people look at me,” Kennedy says, “and see that it is possible to change. We can do it. We don’t have to wait for the government, or for big donors.”

“Standard international development is very top-down,” Jessica explains. “But this is bottom-up. Most of the funding comes from individuals. It only takes $100/month to sponsor one girl, and give her two meals a day.”

Although things are getting better, many residents of Kibera still struggle every day. The political situation has improved significantly since 2007, when Jessica and Kennedy began working together. Kenya’s government is much stronger now, but there is still no functional government in the slum, and no police protection. Poor women still have a dismal life.

Jessica Posner

Children at The Kibera School

But SHOFCO isn’t waiting around for donations. They provide computer, adult literacy and business skills classes for Kibera residents. SHOFCO’s sanitation efforts include cutting edge bio-latrines, community toilets and hygiene and sanitation education initiatives.

All this has grown from Kennedy’s initial work to create a safe, productive space for community members to gather and improve their lives. The real magic of Jessica and Kennedy’s collaboration is the local participation Kennedy inspires, combined with the outside funding prowess Jessica provides.

This approach works so well because it empowers the people of Kibera and lets them decide for themselves how best to use outside aid. Most of all, it engenders hope by demonstrating that a better life is possible.

Wedding of Jessica and Kennedy by John Moore on YouTube/6-19-12

Jessica and Kennedy took their collaboration beyond SHOFCO — they were married in June of 2012, and they will undoubtedly keep right on making things happen. As a friend said at their wedding, “It’s never going to be dull!” I have a feeling there are more miracles on the horizon.



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Author Paula McLain Reimagines the Lives of Two Remarkable Women

Paula McLain; speaking at Book Passage, Aug. 2015/Photo: Pam Burke

Paula McLain at Book Passage Bookstore/8-15

by Laurie McAndish King/November 16, 2015
Photos: Pamela Burke

 “The genre is completely addictive to me. It’s almost like every step of my journey as a writer has been leading up to historical fiction. It allows me to use all my gifts as a writer — my empathy, my curiosity.”   Paula McLain

Paula McLain didn’t plan to write breathtaking historical fiction; her sights were set on poetry. She worked hard at it, earning an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan while single-parenting her toddler. She published two books of verse, a memoir about growing up in the foster-care system in California, and a contemporary novel … and then came The Paris Wife (@randomhouse). McLain hit her stride with historical fiction.

Paula McLain books/Photo: Pam Burke

That book, published in 2011, is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage and early years in 1920s Paris, told from the perspective of his wife, Hadley. Friends were raving about The Paris Wife and I knew McLain had just published a second piece of historical fiction, Circling the Sun, so I was delighted to hear her speak at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California.

Looking lean and graceful in a black jacket and lively pearl earrings, McLain radiates warmth. She talks with both hands, and her right arm clearly has a life of its own. She flips her long brown hair, enthusiastically.

Paula on Reviving Ernest Hemingway and The Paris Wife/Random House of Canada on YouTube

Before she wrote The Paris Wife, McLain says, she had a problem. “I hadn’t yet had a big idea, and I wasn’t sure how to find one. It was by fluke that I stumbled onto A Moveable Feast. I was moved to tears by the love story. When Hemingway believes his own genius … I wanted to know more. Who was she? What really happened, so that they lost each other?”

McLain read two biographies of Hadley. “I let the first fall open, and a letter from Hadley leapt off the page at me. This is my girl,” I thought. “This is my book!” McLain quit her teaching job (she was actually working three teaching jobs at the time) and borrowed some money. She wrote every day in a Starbucks in Cleveland — which, McLain points out, is the absolute farthest one can possibly get from a Parisian café.

“I had never done research before. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I had never even been to Paris. It was almost as if I was channeling her, like an actress in the role of my life,” McLain remembers.

In the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, she found a treasure trove of love letters—thousands of letters that she could “follow down the rabbit hole” into Ernest and Hadley Hemingway’s exuberant life in Jazz-Age Paris. “Hadley had burned all her letters from Ernest, but he kept everything. It was like a ghost chase.”

A member of the audience asks McLain how she managed to recreate Hadley’s dialog. “How do you get into their heads? How much is fact, and how much is fiction?”

“Because it is a novel, you can say anything,” McLain explains. But due to copyright issues, she was not allowed to use any two words together that her subjects had actually written. “Getting inside her head was like an actor’s trick. I had read so many of her letters … I also love what is not being said. Really good dialog is people not saying what’s on their minds.”

The Paris Wife was told from the perspective of a relatively unknown historical figure. It included “no detectives, no porn, and no death on page three.” Yet it hit the New York Times bestseller list — and stayed there for 77 weeks.

“The genre is completely addictive to me,” she explains. “It’s almost like every step of my journey as a writer has been leading up to historical fiction. It allows me to use all my gifts as a writer—my empathy, my curiosity.”

The Paris Wife was named one of the best books of the year by People, the Chicago Tribune, NPR, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Kirkus Reviews, and the Toronto Sun. It sold 1.6 million copies. And that presented a new problem.

Paula at BEA Librarians Breakfast on “Circling the Sun”/Penguin Random House-2015

It was time for a follow up. Readers were asking McLain what she was writing next. She had started novel about Marie Curie, another extraordinary and underappreciated woman, and worked on it for two and a half years. But the story was boring. “It felt like pushing a mannequin in a shopping cart,” McLain recalls.

A nudge from her brother-in-law introduced McLain to West with the Night, the memoir of history-making aviator Beryl Markham. Markham’s achievements alone might have captured McLain’s attention.

Paula McLain, Elaine Petrocelli/Book Passage 8/-15/Photo: Pam Burke

Paula with Elaine Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage/8-15

She was a daring bush pilot in 1920s Kenya; the first person to successfully hunt big game from the air; the first licensed female horse trainer in the world; one of the first people in the world to hold a commercial pilot’s license; and, in 1936, the first woman to fly the Atlantic east to west—the hard way. In McLain’s words, “Markham was a real badass.”

Then there was Markham’s personal story. She suffered incredible losses early in life, somehow managed to draw strength from them, and grew into an exceptional and fearless woman.

She lived a dramatic life as part of a circle of glamorous British and European expats and had affairs with a prince and a duke—not to mention her part in the decade-long love triangle with Danish writer Baroness Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton, a charismatic hunter and pilot. “She lived like Calamity Jane and she looked like Great Garbo,” McLain observes.

But there was still more that drew McLain to Markham; the two shared surprisingly similar backgrounds. Both were abandoned at age four by their mothers and felt the loss deeply. Their mothers were both gone for 16 years, reappearing when their daughters were 20 and making the girls’ lives extremely complicated. Both McLain and Markham were married at age 34. “We share emotional DNA,” McLain says.

And finally there was Markham’s own voice, reaching out from the pages of West with the Night, and captivating McLain. “Within two paragraphs of reading West with the Night, I knew I would write about Markham,” she says. And write she did. Paula McLain’s new book, Circling the Sun, is a fictionalized account of Markham’s life, and it’s getting rave reviews.

McLain is getting rave reviews, too. Here’s what Ann Patchett says in Country Living, “Paula McLain is considered the new star of historical fiction, and for good reason. Circling the Sun … is both beautifully written and utterly engrossing.”

The audience members at Book Passage are eager to hear what McLain is up to next: Is she working on a novel? Will it be about another extraordinary woman? “Will a man ever inspire you that way?” someone asks.

“It’s these women’s lives that are capturing my imagination and magnetizing it,” McLain responds, flipping her hair back. She clearly has someone in mind, and it’s my guess that we’ll soon be treated to another lush piece of inspired historical fiction. In the meantime, I’m tucking into Circling the Sun.



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Dr. Christine Carter on Finding Your Sweet Spot at Home and Work

Dr. Christine Carter/Photo: Blake Farrington

Dr. Christine Carter/Photo; Blake Farrington

By Laurie McAndish King (@LaurieKing)/April 16, 2015

“Every time someone would ask me how I was doing, I would always give the same answer: I am so busy. Extremely busy. Crazy busy. I wore my exhaustion like a trophy, as a sign of my strength and a mark of my character.”  Dr. Christine Carter

That was Dr. Christine Carter a few years ago. It probably sounds familiar—most of us would respond in a similar way. We are parents, partners, children, friends, employees, entrepreneurs, volunteers, committee heads, weekend warriors. And we’ve been programmed to believe that busier is better, that the busier a person is the more important, productive, and successful she is.

The Sweet Spot by Dr. Christine CarterChristine Carter doesn’t believe that any more, and she’s out to convince the rest of us that busyness does not equal importance. In fact, that’s a major theme in her book, The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and at Work. And it’s the first of three myths she busted in a talk at Dominican University’s Institute for Leadership Studies Lecture Series (in partnership with Book Passage).

Carter looks happy and healthy as she stands onstage in a slim sheath and a peppy orange jacket. But she wasn’t always that way. Back when she was into busyness—when she had a high-powered job she loved as Executive Director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and had just released her first book, Raising Happiness, and was raising her four kids and training for a marathon—Carter got sick.

She had chronic low-grade strep throat for 18 months. She contracted a kidney infection. She even had a hospital fantasy: “I wish they would just admit me so I don’t have to go to Atlanta next week.” That’s the price of busyness. Carter emphasized her point by asking us to imagine that we had spent time at a pleasant lunch with a friend or tossing a ball with the dog.

When we’re involved in enjoyable activities like those, we don’t characterize ourselves as busy, even though our time is filled. When we feel busy, it’s usually because we’re doing things that we don’t really enjoy, or that don’t engage us, or that make us feel harried.

Christine Carter’s TEDxGoldenGateED Talk/6-11-11

We call it “busyness,” but neuroscientists call it “cognitive overload”—a state in which it is difficult for a person to plan, decide, remember, think creatively, solve problems, and control emotions. Busyness is a sign that we are not functioning optimally, that we are not living up to our potential.

It is often a sign we are sacrificing our own needs for the needs of our children or our workplace. We need to dial it back in order to become our best selves, Carter explains.

What’s myth number 2? “More is better.”

We know that’s a myth, but it’s a hard one to resist. We tend to put our children into more activities, so they can get into more prestigious schools, so they can get better jobs, so they can make more money, so they can buy more stuff. Do we really want that kind of life for our children? Often, less is more. Often, we already have enough. Dial it back again.

Myth number 3? “Doing nothing is a waste of time.”

The truth is that our brains benefit tremendously from rest; when the mind wanders, the “creative insights” part of the brain turns on. Carter knows, because, as a sociologist she has studied productivity, elite performance, and well-being.

So where does that leave us? If we’re buying into those myths, we’re not living from our sweet spot—that place where we can feel ease as well as accomplishment. Carter shows us a slow-motion video of a baseball player hitting a ball perfectly—hitting the sweet spot. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. The bat doesn’t wobble. The ball flies high. The hitter has used “effortless power, not powerful effort.”

“The sweet spot is pretty fixed in athletics, but not for us humans,” Carter observes.

Fortunately, she has distilled cutting-edge scientific research into five strategies for finding the sweet spot in our own lives. “This book is me road testing all the research about elite productivity,” she says.

Working Mother Magazine–2/23/15

And here they are—Carter’s five sweet-spot strategies:

1. Single-task. The human brain is not designed to multitask, and when we try to do so it increases the chance of errors and creates a subtle, low-level fight-or-flight response. Christine tells us a story about her grandmother as an example. “My grandmother, who had a very difficult life, nevertheless lived to be 104. She loved to cook and taught me to cook. When we were cooking, if I asked a question she would put down the wooden spoon, turn, look at me, and answer my question. She was totally present.” That’s single-tasking.

2. Find the minimum effective dose of any given activity. “I had to do this in every area of my life.” Christine says. Her three-minute, do-it-every-day, better-than-nothing workout, for instance, consists of a one-minute plank, twenty push-ups, and twenty-five squats. And she looks terrific.

3. Stare into space. How will you feel? “Guilty, stuck, anxious, lazy. You’ll want to reach for your devices, read your email, check your Twitter feed. Stare into space anyway,” Carter advises. “Start small. Look at your anxiety or guilt with curiosity. Let yourself feel it. Device-checking is tremendously effective at numbing our emotions. But we don’t numb our emotions selectively. If you want to feel profound joy, you’ll also feel grief.”

Here Christine illustrates her point with short clip from the viral Louis C. K.’s “I Was in My Car One Time” video.

Team Coco–9/20/13

4. Lubricate your brain. Love, compassion, happiness, gratitude, awe, inspiration, hope, optimism—all these positive emotions have a physiological effect. They put the brakes on our fight-or-flight response, decrease stress, deepen our breathing, return our heart rate to normal, and even change our brain function. Carter shows us a short video of a child laughing, and we laugh, too. “You just did it!” she bubbles. “You just reset your nervous system!”

5. Change your mantra. When we have constant conversations about how busy we are, our brains go into overdrive. As an example of the importance of what we pay attention to, Christine shows us a video of Professor Daniel J. Simons’ “Monkey Business Illusion”:


We are what we pay attention to. Next time people ask how you are (“You must be so busy with your book launch…”) consider what you feel grateful for, Carter suggests. You could answer with something like, “I’m very focused on my book launch and I particularly love doing radio interviews.” Then you could change the subject to, “And I’m happy that it’s been so sunny.”

These strategies are hardly a spoiler for Carter’s book, which is jam packed with research-based advice on generating love and connection, shaking things up, problem-solving, fighting the right way, learning to apologize, letting go of grudges, tolerating discomfort, learning from difficulty, the importance of recess, and lots more.

Christine Carter and her Sweet Spot book at Dominican University

Christine Carter at Dominican University promoting her new book.

I love Carter’s message, but wonder whether she’s speaking to the choir, here in Northern California. We may not be aware of all the latest research, but we’ve certainly heard the takeaway. We know it’s important to slow down, to avoid multi-tasking, and to unplug when we’re not working.

As Carter closes her talk, I look around. The air is soft. Many people in the audience are hurrying out into the warm evening. More than half are checking their mobile devices—more than half!—before they even reach the auditorium door. We need you, Dr. Christine Carter. We are crazy busy, and we need you.

Tune in to TWE Radio on 1480KPHX in Phoenix May 2, 3P PDT/May 3, 2P to hear Christine Carter interviewed by Stacey Gualandi or listen to our live stream at 1480KPHX.com. 



Photojournalist Lynsey Addario On Her Relentless Pursuit of Truth

Combat Journalist Lynsey Addario at work/Photo from Lynsey

Photojournalist Lynsey Addario at work

By Laurie McAndish King/April 8, 2015
Photos Courtesy Lynsey Addario (@lynseyaddario)

“I was now a photojournalist willing to die for stories that had the potential to educate people. I wanted to make people think, to open their minds, to give them a full picture of what was happening…”  Lynsey Addario

Lynsey Addario asserts, “I don’t think of myself as a war photographer.” Yet war photography is what she’s known for. It’s what earned her a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting and a MacArthur Fellowship or “Genius Grant.”

Lynsey Addario photo for NY Times Taliban series

Addario’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of armed men and boys near the Afghanistan border

It’s what got her embedded in Afghanistan and landed her in a Libyan prison—blindfolded, bound, and beaten. And it’s the subject of her new memoir, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War (@penguinpress).

I met this extraordinary woman in a crowded auditorium at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center, where she spoke about situations I can barely imagine, and showed photos that were beautifully composed, yet horrifying.

Lynsey Addario, author "It's What I Do"Addario explained that she photographs conflicts not just for the sake of covering war, but because there are humanitarian and human rights issues she wants to expose. She has photographed victims of drought, famine, land mines, mental illness, AIDS, genocide, and rape. Her documentation of bodies strewn across the desert in Darfur made it impossible for the government there to continue denying a massacre.

She has also shot night raids and refugees, soldiers receiving incoming mortar rounds and children playing outdoors in war-torn Benghazi. Cars burning, bombs exploding, a dying soldier’s last moments—these are the images that first drew me to Addario’s work.

Her memoir tells the story of Addario’s life as a conflict photographer, a single woman, a wife, a captive, a reluctantly pregnant freelancer in a man’s profession, and a mother. It is filled with images from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, and Libya.

Addario’s style is gritty. Some of her photos show billows of the dark smoke that rises after bombs fall. Many use a dramatic lower-left-to-upper-right diagonal composition to help convey the scene’s tension. Some show bleeding soldiers, corpses, or skeletons.

Others were taken at night, without enough light for a good exposure. One was taken through green night-vision goggles, and another glows with the red light that was used to avoid enemy detection. They all show human lives in intimate detail.

Lynsey Addario photo 10/23//07--War in Afghanistan

Ambushed from three sides in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, a wounded soldier is about to be airlifted out/10-23-07

What prepares a person for this kind of career? Were Addario’s parents journalists, or military personnel, or doctors? No—they were both hairdressers. Their home in Westport, Connecticut in the 1970s was “a kaleidoscope of transvestites and Village People look-alikes.” Everyone was welcome at our house, Addario says. The doors were always open.

When Lynsey was thirteen her father gave her a Nikon FG, her first camera. She was hooked. Too shy to shoot people, Lynsey began by photographing architecture and flowers. She eventually got work as a stringer with the Associated Press, and graduated to covering protests, press conferences, and accidents. She shot one of Monica Lewinsky’s earliest public appearances, on the TODAY Show.

Addario on the advantage of being a woman photographer

Addario’s first serious assignment as a photojournalist was for a story about the working conditions of transgender prostitutes in New York in 1999. Her mentor at the Associated Press (whom she refers to as “Bebeto”) figured Lynsey was perfect for the project, given her family’s lifestyle.

Getting the photos involved spending weeks with her subjects—without a camera—in order to gain their trust, and then five months more getting the shots.

“I had no idea that I would become a conflict photographer,” Addario says. “I wanted to travel, to learn about the world beyond the United States.”

A year later, at twenty-six, Lynsey found herself in Afghanistan, there to photograph the lives of women living under the Taliban. It was illegal to photograph any living thing in Afghanistan at that time, but she had access to women in a way men did not. Lynsey literally knocked on doors, spoke with women, and asked to photograph them.

Women Studying Koran in Peshawar, Pakistan 2001/Photo; Lynsey Addario

Women and girls study and recite the Koran in Peshawar, Pakistan, 2001

I was not surprised to learn that Lynsey always got her photos. From her presence onstage where she spoke, it was clear that the journalist was both outgoing and determined. But beyond that, she didn’t look like a war photographer. Wearing a fitted black v-neck blouse, skin-tight dark jeans, and black booties with high heels, Addario looked more like a model.

Tabitha Soren, a Berkeley photographer and former news correspondent for MTV and NBC, interviewed Lynsey onstage at the JCC after the photo-slideshow and talk. Addario, of Italian descent, spoke eloquently with both her words and her hands.

“The more I worked, the more I achieved, the more I wanted,” she explained. “I think I’m pretty tortured about my work as a photographer. I’m always thinking about composition, light, access. I never feel like I’m doing enough as a journalist, as a photographer.”

Vumilia, 38, Kaniola/Photo: Lynsey Addario

Vumila, 38, from eastern Congo was kidnapped from her home and raped by nine men.

Conflict photography is difficult for many reasons, and combat is one of the worst. “I’m not gonna start crying when the bullets start flying, ” she said. Addario trained hard before embedding in Afghanistan. She needed to be able to keep up under extremely rigorous conditions of high altitude, traveling on foot in mountainous terrain, and carrying her tent and enough food and supplies for a week—as well as being shot at.

The last thing she wanted was to be with soldiers who thought, “Oh God, the chicks are here.”

In January, 2003, Addario was on assignment in South Korea, and the U.S. was clearly gearing up for war in Iraq. Lynsey knew she would go to Iraq and that she would need body armor there so she ordered it herself, online. From South Korea. It wasn’t easy.

As Soren read a passage from It’s What I Do describing the process, Lynsey sat onstage with her legs crossed and twined together, her hands clasped tightly on her lap, fingers laced together. She was uncomfortable hearing the passage, even though it evoked a big laugh from the audience.

“Basically, I have no idea what I am looking at—ballistic, six-point adjustable tactical armor, etc. Please understand that this language is not familiar to me—I grew up in Connecticut, was raised by hairdressers.”

Lynsey Addario Photo of soldiers being carried out of Fallujah, Nov. 2004

Wounded soldiers being carried out of the Battle of Fallujah/11-2004

The following year, with government permission, Addario took photos of injured American soldiers in Fallujah. Her editor at Life declined to run the story, saying the images made “too strong a story for the American public to see.” Addario tells us about her reaction:

“… something in me had changed after those months in Iraq. I was now a photojournalist willing to die for stories that had the potential to educate people. I wanted to make people think, to open their minds, to give them a full picture of what was happening … When I risked my life to ultimately be censored by someone sitting in a cushy office in New York, who was deciding on behalf of regular Americans what was too harsh for their eyes, depriving them of the right to see where their own children were fighting, I was furious … Every time I returned home, I felt more strongly about the need to continue going back.”

Addario on photographing injured soldiers in Fallujah/11-2004

Addario did keep going back. In the first three months of 2011, she worked in South Sudan (shooting a Newsweek cover with George Clooney), Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, and Libya—where she was kidnapped and beaten.

The first three days were violent, she said, as “we were shifted along the front line. Each new captor asserted his power, beat us, told us they would kill us.” One caressed her while she was bound and blindfolded, repeating over and over, “You will die tonight.”

Addario on being kidnapped and held hostage for six days

Several days later, when she was living off the front line in an apartment under house arrest, one of her male captors offered to buy some supplies. What did she want? “Coffee. Cream. Sugar. Shampoo. A toothbrush,” Addario listed her priorities. Did she need “any feminine things?” he asked delicately, in a surprising show of empathy.

The man returned with “twenty-five bags of groceries. Enough food for a year! We’re never going to be released,” Addario despaired. He also brought new Adidas tracksuits for the three male captives who were her colleagues. Addario, the only woman, got special supplies: an extra-large tan velour sweatsuit embroidered with teddy bears and emblazoned with the words The Magic Girl! plus three pairs of underwear decorated with the words Shake it Up!

Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks, Levent Sahinkaya (the Turkish ambassador in Libya, Lynsey Addario, and Athony Shadid in Turkish Embassy in Tripoli before being released to Tunisia

Released captives Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks, Levent Sahinkaya (the Turkish ambassador to Libya), Lynsey, and Anthony Shadid in the Turkish Embassy in Tripoli before being released to Tunisia

Lynsey Addario was released a few days later. As she settled back into her life, the inevitable question arose: Would Lynsey cover another war? Of course!

She did pause, if only briefly, to have a child. The criticisms she received for traveling while pregnant, risking assault and disease, possibly putting her life and that of her unborn child in jeopardy—did not deter Addario. What she does is a calling, which she will not—she cannot—give up. Like all professional women, Addario struggles to balance her career and personal life.

“I was more selective about assignments after the birth of my son,” she writes, “and I weighed the importance of every story with the importance of every day that would keep me away from my family.”

Motherhood has added an unexpected depth to her work, though. She feels “happier and more complete with my new family than ever before,” but she also suffers more.” Being away from Lucas was worse than any heartbreak, any distance from a lover—anything I had ever known.”

The indescribable love Lynsey feels for her son amplifies the atrocities she sees on assignment. Now she can imagine the depth of grief a parent feels when she loses a child to war or disease or starvation.

Lynsey Addario and husband Paul on their wedding day in 2009/Photo from Yamil for story

Lynsey and husband Paul on their wedding day in France/2009

She is still photographing conflict around the world, opening our eyes to horrific situations most of us will never see in person. She still has the Magic Girl! sweatshirt. And she’s still shaking things up, doing work that makes a difference.

You’ll be hearing lots more about Addario and her work—Steven Spielberg is set to direct a film based on It’s What I Do, with Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence portraying Lynsey. In the meantime you can see her talk at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center below.

Lynsey Addario at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center

Facebook page for Lynsey Addario

You can find the ebook edition:  itswhatidobook.com


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STORY OF THE WEEK: Hillary Clinton Powers Inaugural Lead On Conference for Women

Stacey Gualandi/Lead On Conference/Photo: Lifescript.com

Stacey Gualandi at the Lead On Conference/Photo: lifescript.com

By Stacey Gualandi (@staceygualandi)/April 1, 2015

I’m going to need more than one day. That was the first thing I thought the minute I, and over 5,000 others, walked into the Santa Clara Convention Center for the inaugural Lead On Conference for Women in February.

Waiting for me in the heart of the Silicon Valley was an outstanding lineup of one hundred+ speakers, brought together to “promote leadership, professional development and personal growth,” thanks to the forward-thinking females at Watermark Institute.

Stacey Gualandi at Lead On Conference/lifescript.com

The list included tech industry leaders, best-selling authors, innovators and entrepreneurs—women like fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, Stella & Dot founder Jessica Herrin, former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson, Intel’s Rosalind L. Hudnell, research professor Dr. Brené Brown, and Before I Die Project creator Candy Chang—and that was all before former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s luncheon keynote address!

I covered the one-day event for lifescript.com and I was certainly in good company. With this many high-profile overachievers under one roof, and the possibility that Secretary Clinton might announce her 2016 Presidential run, everyone from CNN to the Huffington Post to the New York Times was front and center.

Hillary Clinton and Kara Swisher at Lead on Conference Silicon Valley, Feb. 24, 2015--Getty Photo

Hillary Clinton with interviewer Kara Swisher at Lead On Conference/Getty Images

During her highly anticipated speech, the former First Lady emphasized how women need to do more to help all women lead on and succeed, but left the crowd hanging when she jokingly teased, “What you do doesn’t have to be big and dramatic…you don’t have to run for office!”

While Revere Digital co-CEO and well-respected tech journo Kara Swisher masterfully led a Q&A with the Secretary, getting her to discuss “partisan bunkers”, Edward Snowden and whether she uses a fitbit (she doesn’t). But she only got an “all in good time” response regarding a run for the White House.

What she lacked in a formal announcement, Mrs. Clinton made up for in her assertion that historically, there has never been a better time to be a woman than right now, but “we have an obligation to set an example for people across the globe.”

She also added, “I believe talent is universal, but opportunity is not. I think ‘leading on’ means, in large measure, how we expand that circle of opportunity.”

At the end of the day, by having leaders like Secretary Clinton speak, Watermark’s take-home strategy gave the audience “insights and practical advice” for their careers, life and relationships. There was no shortage of either.

Dr. Brené Brown, best-selling author of Daring Greatly, told the crowd that on the subject of failure, being brave means being uncomfortable, adding, “There is no greater threat in the world to the cynics, critics and fear mongers than a woman who is willing to fall because she has learned to stand back up.”

Artist and designer Candy Chang, who sold out hundreds of copies of her book Before I Die at the conference, showed all of us through her community art projects how to “share our ideas, memories,  anxieties and aspirations.”

Diane von Furstenberg’s Keynote Address/WeAreWatermark

And Diane von Furstenberg, wrap-dress icon and “comeback kid” at age 50, said, “to be a woman is a privilege. Women should have an identity outside of the home.” She also said don’t waste any time because your present is all about building on your past.

In between keynote speakers, there were networking breaks, author signings, meet-ups, social media roundtables, expert exchanges, and breakout sessions. (Now do you get why I wanted another day?) There were even several TWE radio guests serving as panelists including Gloria Feldt and Victoria Pynchon.

As the hours quickly ticked on, several hot-button issues and themes emerged: Lean in or lean out? Where are the childcare solutions? Why no equal pay? How do I deal with gender inequality? Can I find balance? Many of the sessions tried to tackle these questions.

Former Wall Street equity investor-turned-Akoya Power CEO Vanessa Loder led a panel called “Breaking Through: How to Overcome Fears, Inertia, Gender Bias and Other Obstacles.” She said events like this allow her to inspire other women and show, by example, how to move through fear.

Stacey Gualandi with Katrina Alcorn, author "Maxed Out"

Author Katrina Alcorn and Stacey Gualandi

Loder said, “It’s our inner fears that hold us back much more than the outer obstacles. [This session] was to help people look within and start to question what it is that’s been holding them back. I also wanted to give practical tools so that they could take action on it. I’m really focused on helping people create lasting change.”

“My message to women is: It’s not your fault and you’re not alone,” said Maxed Out: American Moms On The Brink author Katrina Alcorn. She joined a panel, alongside Daring and Passages author Gail Sheehy and POPSUGAR founder Lisa Sugar, called “Life Balance Survival Strategies in a ‘Lean In’ World.”

Her point was simple: “We’ve made great strides but we are far behind other developed countries when it comes to support for working women and families—no paid maternity leaves, guaranteed paid sick days—things like that make such an enormous difference in people’s lives and can set us back in our abilities to lean in.”

Sugar told me she was fortunate to be able to create her own unique path with the POPSUGAR web brand; Lead On let her teach others how to do the same. “We all have our passion. We just need to be able to find it and follow what works best for us,” said Sugar.

Gail Sheehy interviewed by Stacey Gualandi/lifescript.com

During my Lifescript interview with Gail Sheehy, she said she is no stranger to conferences like these, but the energy and professionalism at Lead On is the best she’s experienced. The irony, however, is that it took place in Silicon Valley, “where the last dark hole for women exists. I just wrote a story on this: ‘Straight White Men Don’t Have All the Great Ideas.'”

My takeaway from her successful journalism career? It pays to be daring.

“Every time I feared I would dare, I would take a risk. And that would make me feel stronger that I actually turned anxiety into action. Of course, often I would stumble or fail but it would make me stronger because of having taken the attempt and something good would always come out of it,” says Sheehy.

When the conference began, I was asked, “Name one woman, past or present, who has inspired me and why.” Well, not only did I need more than a day to see and hear everyone, I needed to name more than just one. But after Lead On, it was refreshing to know there are so many women to choose from.

And while I still don’t know if Hillary Clinton wants to lead the country, one thing I do know: I’m that much closer to leading a more inspired life.

Lead on Conference Logo



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STORY OF THE WEEK: An Empowering Luncheon with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth McGregor at YWCA Luncheon 1/13/15, Phoenix

Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth V. McGregor at the Arizona YWCA Empowerment Luncheon

By Pamela Burke/February 16, 2015

“Work hard. Stay involved in your community. You can make a difference.” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, January 13, 2015

Two truly out-of-the-ordinary events happened in Phoenix recently. It rained, not a soft rain, but a sudden midday drenching. But much more memorable than the unexpected downpour, I got to meet retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female justice in the 191-year history of the U.S. Supreme Court!

What a treat and thrill it was to attend an Arizona YWCA Women’s Empowerment Series event with two outstanding guests—Justice O’Connor and Justice Ruth V. McGregor, who served on the Arizona Supreme Court from 1998 until 2009 and was the second female Chief Justice in Arizona’s history.

Justices Sandra Day o'Connor and Ruth McGregor at Empowerment Luncheon 1/13/15 Phoenix YWCA/Photo: P. Burke

Justices O’Connor and McGregor during their discussion/Photo: P. Burke

Justice McGregor handled the duty of chief questioner at this special luncheon in downtown Phoenix’s Irish Cultural Center. Their beautiful McClelland Library is currently housing an extraordinary exhibit of  O’Connor’s photos, ranch artifacts and documents, even a robe like one she would have worn during judicial duties.

Sign outside McClelland Library/Phoenix announcing O'Connor exhibit

Entitled “The Cowgirl Who Became a Justice: Sandra Day O’Connor,” this collection connects her early years being raised on a 200,000 acre ranch bordering Arizona and New Mexico to her days on the Court in Washington.

Everything from her retirement letter dated July 1, 2005 to a branding iron with the letter B is on display–a treasure trove of fascinating items.

The walls display a variety of letters, from President Reagan’s historic nomination to one voicing disgust and disappointment that a woman would be mentioned for such a high position, and another from a “Senior Citizen” who wrote, “Back to your kitchen!”

A video of the confirmation hearing in September, 1981, plays in the background where you can see her interrogated by the committee. One volunteer at the library  said that he couldn’t believe how tough they were during the questioning although the vote by the Senate to confirm her turned out to be a unanimous 99-0.

We take our female justices a bit more for granted now, but hearing Justice O’Connor reminisce with Justice McGregor brought back the era when a woman on the Supreme Court seemed an impossibility. These two friends, who have known each other for more than 40 years, shared memories of the tough days dealing with the pressures of living in the fishbowl created by that monumental announcement.

Display items at Sandra Day O'Connor exhibit/McClelland Hall Phoenix/Photo: Cowgirl Museum and hall of Fame

A wall of historical photos which includes a judicial robe
Courtesy: The Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame

Justice O’Connor learned of her nomination in the summer of 1981 when, while working at the state capital in Phoenix, she was told that the White House was calling. “I was amazed that a cowgirl from where I grew up would even be considered,” she said.

McGregor remembered hearing the news of  President Reagan’s choice on the radio. She couldn’t wait to learn who the nominee was and was overwhelmed when it turned out to be her friend. “I started crying; it makes me cry even now,” she said.  At the time she thought about what a huge difference the appointment would make in America, especially in the lives of women.

Sandra Day O'Connor book, Lazy B

Justice O’Connor’s book about growing up on the Lazy B Ranch written with her brother

Taking the Justice through her early years, McGregor asked about her days growing up on the Lazy B Ranch, where water was at a premium and two huge windmills, with fans 20 feet in diameter, were a lifeline.

O’Connor remembered how she loved being isolated on the huge spread of land, the endless pumping of water and the sounds of the windmills turning. It was tough going to school in such a remote location so she ended up attending Miss Bradford’s School for Girls in El Paso, Texas.

One indelible memory was seeing Eleanor Roosevelt arriving at her school one day. She recalled putting on her best clothes and not telling her parents about it. Her dad, she said, would have yanked her out of Miss Bradford’s because he felt that the Roosevelts were the worst people ever.

She will never forget watching Mrs. Roosevelt get out of a long black car. Judge MacGregor added that young girls now have that same feeling when they see Justice O’Connor.

Asked why she chose the legal profession, she said she was always interested in why things were the way they were and thought that the legal system was responsible for most of it. She graduated from high school at 16 and from Stanford Law School at 22 in the top of her class.

“I expected to have trouble getting a job. They didn’t say no, but they just weren’t interested.”

Those were not the days when legal firms were excited to get resumes from female lawyers. “I expected to have trouble getting a job,” Justice O’Connor said. “They didn’t say no, but they just weren’t interested.”

Anxious to be employed, she took unpaid work in the hopes of finding a position that paid a salary. She was thrilled to finally get a job as Deputy County Attorney in Redwood City, California, where she remembered being happy sharing office space with a secretary.

Despite her many outstanding achievements, she recalled the tremendous pressure of rising to the level of  the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court. She was frightened during the first year that it might be the end of women in the court if she didn’t do her job well and did not want to set things back.

Sandra Day O'Connor travelling exhibit by the Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame with permission to TWE

Photos r. to l. of Justice O’Connor with young school friends on the ranch, riding a favorite horse and with her mother/Courtesy: The Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame

She and McGregor, who was her law clerk then, remembered the basketfuls of letters they received, up to 5,000 a month and more than any other justice in history. With little staff,  they couldn’t deal with them all.

When asked how she looked back on those days, the Justice replied, “I don’t want to look back too hard.” Being surrounded by press who were looking through her windows and wanting to know the food that she ate  was not pleasant.

McGregor reminded her that no one has done more to empower women than she has and that she opened endless doors for them. With great humility, O’Connor said, “I don’t know about that. If I goofed up, the door might have slammed shut.”

Justices O'Connor and McGregor at Empowerment Luncheon YWCA Phoenix 1/13/15--Photo;: YWCA

Justice McGregor, Catherine Scrivano–YWCA Board of Director’s President, Justice O’Connor/Courtesy: Arizona YWCA

Everyone was anxious to hear her words of advice to the women of today. “Work hard,” she said. “Stay involved in your community. You can make a difference. Participate in meaningful ways and go into areas you are involved in where you can make a real contribution.”

After all those years serving on the Court, does any case weigh heavily on her mind? Her answer was brief and to the point. “No, nothing keeps me awake at night.”

What does keep her busy is the O’Connor House, an adobe home she lived in with her family for 25 years, which was disassembled and moved to a park on the Arizona Historical Society Museum campus in Tempe, Arizona.

The O’Connor House

Its mission is to be a center that brings together groups with divergent views for problem-solving. With pride she mentioned another great passion of hers, iCivics, a program she founded to prepare the next generation to be engaged citizens.

This special guest, once deemed the most powerful woman in America, left the event to view the Phoenix exhibit for the first time. One woman echoed the feeling of those in attendance as the Justice headed towards the McClelland Libary next door. “I could have stood and applauded at everything,” she said.

Kudos to the YWCA AZ for putting on this program and to the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Fort Worth, Texas and Diana Vela who organized the exhibit. It will be in Phoenix until May 23, 2015, then return to its home in Fort Worth, Texas.

Photos from The Cowgirl Museum: Dr. Eleanor Green







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Elizabeth Smart Spreads Message of Hope to Sexual Abuse Victims

Elizabeth Smart at Signs of Hope 40th Anniv Dinner for Rape Crisis Center, Las Vegas, Oct. 2014--Photo: Rape Crisis Center

Elizabeth Smart speaks at the “Signs of Hope”
40th Anniversary Dinner for the Rape Crisis Center Las Vegas.

By Stacey Gualandi/ January 16, 2015

TWITTER: @ElizSmart

When 27-year-old Elizabeth Smart took to the microphone at the “Signs of Hope” 40th Anniversary Dinner for the Rape Crisis Center Las Vegas recently, she was poised, polished and in total command.

It’s hard to believe considering that in 2002, at 14-years-old, Elizabeth was abducted from her Salt Lake City bedroom, then sexually assaulted repeatedly, until her miraculous rescue nine months later. Her story captured the nation’s attention.

But as harrowing as her ordeal must have been, it did shape the woman Elizabeth would become. In the years that have followed, she made a choice to speak out for those who can’t.

Press conference video from 40th Anniversary Dinner/10-29, 2014

“I know what it feels like to be kidnapped, raped and to almost lose all hope. Yet, I was so blessed to have been rescued and to have a loving and supportive family who’s there for me every step of the way. How could I not?” said Smart at a press conference prior to the event.

I’ve always wanted to meet Elizabeth. As a correspondent for the television newsmagazine Inside Edition, I spent several weeks in Utah covering her kidnapping and the massive search for her. After she was rescued, I wondered how she would ever recover and live a “normal” life.

Years later, I am in awe that she has reclaimed her life after such severe emotional and sexual abuse. When I heard she would be the keynote speaker for the Rape Crisis Center event, I knew I had to attend.

During the press conference, Smart cited Center for Disease Control statistics that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be raped before they turn 18.

“I remember thinking that cannot be right…Every speech I’ve given, I’ve had someone come up to me and tell me how they were raped, abused as a child, or kidnapped. Having all these faces matching all of these numbers, it was overwhelming,” Smart told the media attending.

Smart says organizations and events like this give her hope to continue her tireless work raising awareness and advocating for victims through her Elizabeth Smart Foundation. She believes communication is a “huge factor in helping to keep your daughters safe.”

For four decades, the Rape Crisis Center Las Vegas has steadily built education around communication and awareness. It created education programs at the elementary, middle and high school levels, and now Executive Director Danielle Dreitzer says their emphasis moving forward will be on “true prevention.”

At Rape Crisis Center in Las Vegas Signs of Hope 40th Anniversary Dinner, Oct. 2014

Radio host Mercedes Martinez, Honoree Marcy Humm, Honoree Nina Radetich,
RCC Executive Director Danielle Dreitzer

She says last year, they brought on their first teen interns. They held a “teen summit” in August to recruit empowered youths and then launched Hollaback! Las Vegas in December, a program to end street harassment.

“We are trying to get out there with messages that can really change how the community… views the issue of sexual violence,” says Dreitzer.

Elizabeth Smart book, "My Story"Having Elizabeth speak, Dreitzer says, is a gift. “Elizabeth provides us with a voice for all of those kids who may have told somebody and were not believed or didn’t say anything because they were so afraid.”

Over 300 people attended the dinner to raise money and to honor Congresswoman Dina Titus with the Legislative Hero award; RCC Board member Marcy Humm with the Commitment to Success award; and new media entrepreneur Nina Radetich with the Commitment to Sustainability award.

The bestselling author says what happened to her over a decade ago doesn’t haunt her every day. She learned to cope with the trauma, she says, through the tremendous support of her family and friends.

“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all in the healing process,” she says. “What worked for me might not work for anybody else.”

She says many women have ongoing guilt feelings that they were to blame or that they could have prevented the abuse. But Smart adds, “All of those feelings are wrong. It’s so important for women to know that rape is never their fault.”

While changes have been made in laws and the way organizations and advocacy centers treat victims, Smart admits there is a long way to go. And that includes continuing to spread her message of hope any way she can.

“Seeing so many people coming together inspires me and helps me realize that there are so many more people out there who are good and who want to do good things.”

Since visiting Las Vegas, Smart has turned her attention to the fight against human trafficking. In November, she spoke about the sex slave trade at the United Nations and has teamed up with Operation Underground Railroad, a group that sets up stings with local law enforcement to free children.


Photos Courtesy Rape Crisis Center Las Vegas


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Celebrating Kathi Kamen Goldmark’s Life and ‘Her Wild Oats’

Sam Barry and the late Kathi Kamen Goldmark-2009 |

Sam Barry and the late Kathi Kamen Goldmark at their book launch for
Write That Book Already! -2009 | Photo: Book Passage

By Laurie McAndish King/August 31, 2014


“In the end, getting Kathi’s work published was the best possible way to honor this woman who so loved books, authors, bookstores and libraries.” Sam Barry, husband of Kathi Kamen Goldmark

There was off-key group singing involved—call and response. Blues harmonica and pedal-steel guitar from two members of the Los Train Wreck band featured prominently. A harmonica-playing widower in a woman’s bright red wig sang something affectionately known as “The Slut Song.”

Noted author Amy Tan was on stage, with her dry sense of humor, a beautiful purple jacket gifted to her by a ghost, and her little dog Bobo. No doubt about it; this was the craziest fun I’ve ever had at an author event. But the author wasn’t there.

Sam Barry and author Amy Tan | Photo: Jim Shubin

Sam Barry and author Amy Tan | Photo: Jim Shubin

Kathi Kamen Goldmark succumbed to cancer in 2012 after having written, but not yet published, the novel Her Wild Oats, the story of a wise and generous young woman, a honky-tonk band on tour, and a 13-year-old genius harmonica player.

We were at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California—along with the late author’s husband Sam Barry, and her friends, writers Susanne Pari and Amy Tan—to celebrate the book’s publication. We ended up celebrating Kathi’s life. Again. I didn’t know Kathi, but she was clearly someone who inspired many celebrations.

Kathi Kamen Goldmark's book, "Her Wild Oats"Sam explains, “After the memorial a group of us were discussing how to honor Kathi’s life. We talked about dedicating one of those lovely benches in San Francisco, but this didn’t seem appropriate, as she basically never sat down. A steering wheel on the wall of a nightclub or bookstore would have been more appropriate. In the end, getting Kathi’s work published was the best possible way to honor this woman who so loved books, authors, bookstores and libraries.”

Kathi and books go back a long way. In addition to being a radio and music producer, songwriter, and musician, Kathi was an author, columnist, publishing consultant, and media escort. In the early 80s, she founded a company that worked with authors on book tours. They loved being with Kathi, whose wide circle of friends, intimate knowledge of San Francisco’s best hot spots, and effervescent personality provided entertainment for the entertainers.

Tim Cahill, adventurer, author, and founding editor of Outside magazine, remembers those early days when Kathi helped authors visiting San Francisco: “Kathy brightened the drudgery of a book tour and she was never ever shy about telling you which currently touring authors were acting badly (that is, worse than me.)”

In fact, Kathi ended up befriending so many authors that she easily convinced a dozen or so to form a band called the Rock Bottom Remainders, a “hard listening” rock ‘n’ roll group made up of best-selling authors with dubious musical abilities. Kathi founded the band intending it to be a one-night fundraiser, but her personality kept it going.

Hard Listening: The Greatest Rock Band (of Authors) Tell All book coverOver the course of twenty years they raised nearly two million dollars for non-profits supporting literacy programs. The group’s slogan? Over 350M books sold. Forty New York Times #1 Bestsellers. One lousy band.

Last year the Rock Bottom Remainders celebrated Kathi’s life by publishing an interactive e-book in which they shared “the behind-the-scenes, uncensored story of their two decades of friendship, love, writing, and the redemptive power of rock ‘n’ roll.”

It’s called Hard Listening: The Greatest Rock Band Ever (of Authors) Tells All by Stephen King, Scott Turow, Mitch Albom, Amy Tan, Matt Groening, Dave Barry, Roy Blount Jr., James McBride, Ridley Pearson, Greg Iles, Sam Barry, and Roger McGuinn. (McGuinn was lead singer and lead guitarist for many of The Byrds’ songs; the band did have some musical chops!) The authors are donating all their proceeds towards payment of Kathi’s medical bills—that’s the kind of loyalty she inspired.

Sam Barry wearing a red wig to honor Kathi's red hair | Photo: Jim Shubin

Sam Barry | Photo: Jim Shubin

Where did the widower in a red wig come in? That was Kathi’s husband Sam, singing her trademark song, “Older Than Him, aka The Slut Song.” The bright red wig was a tribute to Kathi’s red hair; the song’s clever lyrics provided a glimpse of Kathi’s whacky sense of humor.

And what of Amy Tan’s ghostly garb? Amy told us the story of losing one of her favorite jackets—the sultry purple one she often wears for special events (she’s wearing it in the photo below). The jacket had been missing for a long time. Amy had searched everywhere for it and was sadly resigned to the fact that she’d never see it again.

How was the jacket a sign? Well, it appeared—from nowhere, just after Amy had asked the universe for a sign from Kathi—in Amy’s closet. The jacket materialized in a rumpled ball, which was reminiscent of Kathi’s style. (Everything in Amy’s closet is always in perfect order.) Amy is wise; she knew immediately that Kathi had delivered the jacket.

Author Amy Tan (l), Elaine Petrocelli, President of Book Passage, author Susanne Pari and Sam Barry, husband of Kathi Kamen Goldmark

From Left: Author Amy Tan, Elaine Petrocelli, President of Book Passage,
author Susanne Pari and Sam Barry | Photo: Book Passage

For those of us who don’t have such direct access to Kathi, Her Wild Oats is an exuberant connection. Susanne Pari read from the first chapter, introducing the protagonist, Arizona Rosenblatt, her cheating husband-with-a-hand-gun, missing money, a bizarre threat, and an omen delivered by a singing teddy bear.

The story, like Kathi’s own life, is filled with quirky characters who touch one another in meaningful ways. Reading Her Wild Oats made me wish I’d known Kathi. She will certainly inspire many more celebrations.



By Laurie McAndish King/Aug. 31, 2014–We gathered for the launching of Her Wild Oats, but we ended up celebrating Kathy Kamen Goldmark‘s life. This beloved, creative whirlwind succumbed to…More

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