Written by Gloria Steinem
Audiobook read by Debra Winger, Gloria Steinem
Published by Random House on October 27th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Cultural Heritage, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Social Science
Source: public library via Overdrive
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Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of how her early years led her to live an on-the-road kind of life, traveling, listening to people, learning, and creating change. She reveals the story of her own growth in tandem with the growth of an ongoing movement for equality. This is the story at the heart of My Life on the Road.
Gloria Steinem is one of the most familiar names associated with 20th-century second-wave feminism, recognized for over five decades promoting dialogue and action to advance equality among people across sex and gender lines. Known as a writer, speaker, and political figure (though not a politician), Steinem characterizes herself as an “organizer,” and for her, organizing has been a person-to-person effort, leading to thousands of miles traveled in service of consciousness-raising. My Life on the Road is a notably personal work from the woman who coined the phrase “the personal is political,” recounting Steinem’s encounters with the people and places that raised her own consciousness.
As the publisher’s description summarizes the book,
“Gloria Steinem had an itinerant childhood. When she was a young girl, her father would pack the family in the car every fall and drive cross-country searching for adventure and trying to make a living. The seeds were planted: Gloria realized that growing up didn’t have to mean settling down. And so began a lifetime of travel, of activism and leadership, of listening to people whose voices and ideas would inspire change and revolution.
“…From her first experience of social activism among women in India to her work as a journalist in the 1960s; from the whirlwind of political campaigns to the founding of Ms. magazine; from the historic 1977 National Women’s Conference to her travels through Indian Country—a lifetime spent on the road allowed Gloria to listen and connect deeply with people, to understand that context is everything, and to become part of a movement that would change the world.”
While the structure of My Life on the Road is largely chronological, it’s organized more along thematic lines. The episodes related in individual sections may not be sequential, and Steinem frequently opens a story with a statement of its time, place, and purpose in order to give it context: “It’s (month, year) and I’m in (city) (with persons) to (speak about/listen to/organize around this issue).” This device does become a bit routine, but because the stories they lead into are so varied, it doesn’t become redundant.
Steinem’s approach in My Life on the Road is part memoir, part manifesto. As she recounts the many ways in which her world has been shaped by her making it as big as possible, she urges readers to take to the road themselves. In this, Steinem doesn’t mean “travel” as synonymous with “tourism,” or with a focus on exotic destinations–it really is about the journey here. The geographical distance doesn’t matter all that much, and the whole point of the trip is making connections with people and places, bridging the distance between opposing cultures and beliefs, all along the way.
Steinem’s life on the road has made her both witness to and participant in a particularly turbulent period of modern American history. It’s also given her dozens of fascinating stories to tell, and I was glad to have the opportunity to hear them. The author reads the introduction to My Life on the Road on the audiobook, and the rest of her stories are ably told by actress Debra Winger.
From Chapter One:
“I come by my road habits honestly.
“There were only a few months each year when my father seemed content with a house-dwelling life. Every summer, we stayed in the small house he had built across the road from a lake in rural Michigan, where he ran a dance pavilion on a pier over the water. Though there was no ocean within hundreds of miles, he had named it Ocean Beach Pier, and given it the grandiose slogan ‘Dancing Over the Water and Under the Stars.’
“On weeknights, people came from nearby farms and summer cottages to dance to a jukebox. My father dreamed up such attractions as a living chess game, inspired by his own love of chess, with costumed teenagers moving across the squares of the dance floor. On weekends, he booked the big dance bands of the 1930s and 1940s into this remote spot. People might come from as far away as Toledo or Detroit to dance to this live music on warm moonlit nights. Of course, paying the likes of Guy Lombardo or Duke Ellington or the Andrews Sisters meant that one rainy weekend could wipe out a whole summer’s profits, so there was always a sense of gambling. I think my father loved that, too.
“But as soon as Labor Day had ended this precarious livelihood, my father moved his office into his car.”