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Other Gals Who Climbed to the Top Pt. 1

Alexandra_David-Neels
By Preus museum – Flickr: Alexandra David-Neels, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14876154

Fifty years earlier, Arlene Blum would not have been allowed in certain areas in the Great Himalayan range. It was an entirely different kind of explorer who helped open those gates. In 1924, spiritual seeker Alexandra David-Neel was the first Western woman to visit Tibet’s “Forbidden City,” Lhasa, in its mountain perch. Dressed as a beggar and traveling so light that they didn’t even have blankets, the fifty-five-year-old Alexandra and a young monk, made the perilous climb up 18,000 feet to the holy city. Her travelogue is one of the most treasured resources in Asian studies, published as My Journey to Lhasa.

Opera singer turned scholar, the intrepid Frenchwoman also has the honor of being the first Western woman to have an audience with the Dalai Lama in his Indian exile. Alexandra never did anything halfway and found the study of Buddhism so appealing that she moved into an ascetic’s snowy cave, and undertook the studies and spiritual practice of a Buddhist nun. She became such an adept that she reportedly was able to control her body temperature through meditation, and there are legends of levitation and other psychic phenomenon. Poo-poohing “the supernatural,” her explanation for these matters is simple and practical: she learned from the Tibetans that it is all a matter of management of natural energies. One of the world’s earliest scholar’s in Eastern Studies and Oriental mysticism, Alexandra David-Neel’s unique combination of daring and curiosity made her one of the most fascinating women in any part of the world.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

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Women Warriors of the Americas

Coyolxauhqui_en_el_Museo_Nacional_de_Antropología
By Carlos yo – Own work

Coyolxauhqui was an Aztec divinity who fought her own mother, Coatlicue, for defending the warrior-god she had birthed (her brother, I suppose, but enemy nevertheless!) Coyolxauhqui’s daunting name means “the one whose face was tattooed with rattlesnakes.”

According to herstorian Carolyn Niethammer, Pohaha was a brave battle axe with a sense of humor for whom the heat of battle was quite rousing. Of North American Tewa Indian tribal origin, Pohaha’s name tells the tale: “po” referred to the wetness between her legs caused by her excitement in battle and “ha ha” was a name given her because of her shrieks of laughter as she warred. Pohaha wanted to make sure her enemies knew they were up against a woman warrior, and would lift her skirt to prove her gender.

Weetamoo, the Squaw of Sachem of Pocasset, lived in the area of what is now Tiverton, Rhode Island, from 1650 for a quarter-century of legendary awesomeness. She commanded an army of 300 women warriors and stunned all who encountered her with her incredible beauty and charisma. She was a good tactician and courageous in battle. When her husband, Wamsutta, was poisoned by the English, Weetamoo decided to try to eradicate the white invaders from her land. She joined her brother-in-law Metacom and their armies  fought side-by-side against the English in King Phillip’s War. During the Great Swamp fight of 1675, she drowned in the Tetcut River while being chased by Brits. The Redcoats fished her body out of the flood-swollen river, cut off her head, and put it on display.

Bowdash was an Indian woman who acted as a guide for white men explorers. Born to the Kutenai tribe in Montana, she was a folk shero in her part of the west, celebrated for being a peacemaker, prophet, messenger, and warrior in song and story, passed down orally through generations. Her story is both gory and glorious. According to Kutenai legend, when she was being killed by her enemies by their knives, her wounds magically sealed up.

Elizabeth Custer was the very independent wife of the famous Major General George A. Custer who traveled west after the Civil War. “Libbie” rode with the Seventh Cavalry beside her husband and other notables such as Wild Bill Hickok and Medicine Bill Comstock. She was an extraordinary horsewoman, able to ride forty miles a day easily. Her overprotective (to say the least!) husband instructed his regiment to kill her themselves rather than let her fall into enemy hands. This never happened, because she and her sister missed out on the Battle of Little Big Horn when they left the fort for some horseback adventures of their own. Libbie also traveled to India and rode a horse through the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan. She lived to the ripe old age of ninety-two and was buried in West Point’s military cemetery beside George.

Pauline Cushman was a Romani woman of great beauty who fought in the Civil War and gained the rank of major for her courage in fighting behind enemy lines in Tennessee. Her life was incredibly colorful—after the war, she went out west and gave speeches in full Union uniform. She also acted, amazing audiences, favoring the role and costume of an Amazon. For a time, she settled in Arizona where she ran a hotel and kept the peace with her trusty Colt 45. Upon moving to the Wild West outpost of San Francisco, she took the law into her own hand again and bullwhipped a man in public for libeling her. No doubt, people thought twice before speaking ill of gypsy soldier gal Pauline Cushman after that!

Poker Alice Ivers was one of the special breed of “Wild West Amazons” who ran a casino, smoked cigars, and sported a six-shooter she used with skill. In the 1880s, she ran across a card dealer in Pecos who cheated; she waited and watched until the pot was worth taking, held her gun to his head and then made off with the $5,000 prize, shouting, “I don’t mind a cheat, it’s a clumsy cheat that I can’t stand.”

Belle Starr fought for the Yankees as an underground guerilla on the other side of the Mason Dixon Line. Unfortunately for her and a few hundred others, these guerilla groups were outlawed and Belle was on the lam, unable to go home. Forced to a life of crime as an accidental fugitive, Belle showed a flair for stickups and cattle rustlings, and generally supported her bad self as a gun-for-hire. Belle has gotten a bum rap as a colorful criminal; she and the others from the underground were patriots who served their country well in extreme danger only to have the rug (or flag, as it were) pulled out from under them.

Calamity Jane was born in 1852 and remains a household name for her skill as a sharpshooter, muleskinner, midwife, gambler, and horseback scout. Her real name was Martha Jane Canary, and she died a pauper in 1903, even though she herself would give the shirt off her back to the needy or sick. She also wouldn’t think twice about shooting the hat off any man who disrespected her!

Woman Chief, the “Absaroka Amazon,” was a Gros Ventre girl raised by the Crow tribe who captured her in a hunt shortly after her birth, estimated to have been in 1806. Like Shoshone Sacajawea, without whom Lewis and Clark would have made the Donner Party look like a walk in the park, Woman Chief was a highly skilled hunter, guide, negotiator, and translator, who specialized in buffalo hunting, horse thieving, and close-range battle. Her reputation swelled to mythic proportion when she killed and wounded several men in her first skirmish. Her fellow warriors sang songs in her honor, and she made for hot fireside chat. As a hunter, she was reputed as “capable of killing five buffalo during a hunt and then butchering them and loading them on to packhorses singlehandedly.” Her sleight-of-hand style of horse trading won her a place on the Council of Chiefs and the title of Woman Chief. She was murdered by a Gros Ventre warrior in the middle of negotiations for peace she was undertaking between the Crows and her native tribe.

Her courage and glory is celebrated in Zapata’s revolutionary song, “Adelita.” However, Adelita was very much a real person, not just a romantic notion in a popular song. She was a gaucha at the turn of the twentieth century in Zapata’s, and later Pancho Villa’s army. There were many women soldiers in the peasant armies of the revolution called “soldederas” who started following the army as cooks, water-bearers, and camp followers helping the cause by helping the men. They eventually evolved into their own organization, divided up into ranks of their own design, and they carried pistols, rifles, and knives, becoming “warriors as fierce as the men.”

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Fierce Asiatic Females

In the year 39 A.D., the Vietnamese Trung sisters led a revolt against China. Phung Thi Chinh was in the last stages of pregnancy, but fought beside the other women, gave birth in the middle of the rebellion, and kept on fighting with her babe bound to her back with cloth.

Hangaku was a medieval noble’s daughter with topnotch archery skills. Born to the Taira shogunate, she fought beside the men to defend the family’s castle. She was fully acknowledged for having superior bow and arrow skills in comparison with her father, brothers, and husband, “shooting a hundred arrows and hitting a hundred times.” In 1201, a fateful attack on the familiar fortress occurred, during which Hangaku dressed like a boy and stood, unhidden, raining arrows down upon the attackers. Even her flawless archery couldn’t save the Tairas that round, and she was felled by an arrow and captured as a prisoner-of-war.

Afra’Bint Ghifar al-Humayriah was a veil-less Arab woman who fought in the legendary tent-pole battles with Khawlah in the seventh century. These resourceful women rebelled against the Greeks who captured them with the only available weapon—the poles of the tents they were imprisoned in!

Hindustan’s warrior queen of Gurrah, Durgautti led a bold and colorful army of 1,500 elephants and 6,000 horseback soldiers. “Like a bold heroine, mounted within her elephant’s howdar, armed with lance and bow and arrow,” writes herstorian Eleanor Starling, she bested the invasive Mongol Asaph Khan and his army of 6,000 horses and 12,000 foot soldiers. When he later turned the tables on her, she killed herself with her elephant handler’s dagger rather than endure defeat.

Lakshmi Bar, the Rani of Jhansi is one of India’s national heroines. Raised in a household of boys, she was fearless and brilliant as a military strategist. When her husband died, she came out of purdah to fight the British, becoming the key figure extraordinaire who trained women for her army with special care. These women came to be known as the “amazons of Jhansi.” Lakshmi herself was famous for calmly taunting enemy generals, “Do your worst, I will make you a woman.” Her fame spread like wildfire throughout India, making her their national shero when she broke through an encircling ambush of British soldiers during battle and escaped in horseback to a hundred miles away in just twenty-four hours with a ten-year-old boy clinging to her back. She and the boy were the only two survivors of the slaughtered Indian troops. It should also be noted that Lakshmi was in full armor in sweltering 120 degree heat. She died on the battlefield in Gwalior when she was barely thirty; a British general called her the “greatest hero” he’d ever known.

Qui Jin was called a “Heroine Among Women” by SunYat-Sen. She was simply amazing!Born in 1874, her hobbies included cross-dressing and riding through the streets of Chinese cities and villages. She founded the first newspaper for women in China, founded a school for girls, and escaped from her arranged marriage to pursue her revolutionary goals of overthrowing the Qing Monarchy. Quite the intellectual, she wrote poetry and took a vow of silence during her imprisonment upon being arrested for plotting the assassination of the Qing governor. Her daughter followed in her mother’s pioneering footsteps by becoming China’s first aviatrix.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

European Battle Axes and Freedom Fighters

 

Lathgertha_by_Morris_Meredith_Williams
By Morris Meredith Williams (1881-1973) – The Northmen in Britain (pub. 1913) by Eleanor Means Hull, p. 17

The Germanic princess Modthryth referenced in Beowulf was an actual female ruler in 520 A.D., “a good folk queen” with soldierly aspirations. According to folktales handed down in Sweden, any man who looked upon her with desire was challenged to fight her and be felled by her sword!

Lathgertha was also a ruler immortalized in Halfdanar Saga, which tells her story under the name Hladgerd. She rallied to hero Halfdanar’s cause, leading twenty ships in battle to save the day. She is also commemorated in a Saxo Grammaticus tale where he supplied more background about what inspired Lathgertha to take up the battle girdle—she and a group of noblewomen were taken for slaves by invading Norwegians who locked them into a prison brothel. The noblewomen refused to suffer this indignation and turned the tables on their captors, taking their weapons and going into battle. Grammaticus describes her as endowed with “a man’s temper in a woman’s body. With locks flowing loose under her helm, she fought in the forefront of the battle, the most valiant of warriors. Everyone marveled at her matchless feats.”

Aethelburg was an ancient British battle-queen of Ine. According to the writings of Damico, she erected a fortress in Taunton in 722 A.D. One hundred-fifty years after Aethelburg’s rule, Aethelflaed took up the sword and swore herself to chastity-belted celibacy after her intensely unpleasant experience of childbirth. She and her husband became friends and fellow warriors. When her husband died in 912 A.D., she kept on fighting to defend her father, Alfred the Great, and his kingdom against invading Danes. She had a brilliant tactical mind, uniting the pre-England kingdoms of Wales and Mercia. She died in battle at Tammoth in the borough of Stratfordshire and her one child, daughter Aelfwyn, ascended the throne until her jealous, power-hungry uncle managed a coup. 

Good King Wenceslas was actually quite mad. His wife, Queen Sophia of Bohemia had to hold the royal stronghold by herself against German’s invading emperor Sigismund and a barbarous cyclopean Bohemian named Ziska, who fancied he would overtake and rule Bohemia himself.  Ziska’s Army of Women was a ragtag bunch of Bohemian reformers and patriots, largely women and children, who took down Sophia’s professional soldiers with such original tactics as removing their clothes and tossing them on the battlefield to entangle the legs of the warhorses the Bohemian Royal Army rode. The Knights Templar are quite well known, but their counterparts, the numerous crusading battle nuns known as the 

Martial Nuns are not, having been effectively “whited-out” of history—probably by jealous scribe monks! But there were armed nuns who accompanied fighting monks in the Crusades in the 1400s. But even nuns who stayed home were often armed—they had to defend their convents by themselves in the aggressively territorial Dark Ages. For example, when the anti-Christian Espartero invaded Spain in his famous siege, the nuns of Seville fought back and won. One nun who took up the pen and the sword wrote of her crusade to Jerusalem at the time of Saladin’s attack on the holy city, “I wore a helmet or at any rate walked on the ramparts wearing on my head a metal dish which did as well as a helmet. Women though I was I had the appearance of 

a warrior. I slung stones at the enemy. I concealed my fears. It was hot and there was never a moment’s rest. Once a catapulted stone fell near me and I was injured by the fragments.”

Careful study of European military history shows a number of women armies, including many women of the cloth. Ultimately, success was too threatening to the men they fought beside and several popes declared such women to be heretics. Joan of Arc, of course, was the most famous. She was burned at the stake in 1431 on the letter of a law that was hundreds of years old  that forbade women from wearing armor. At the same time, Joan was the national shero of France, having led the battle to free the French from the foreign power of England, at the advice of the voices of saints. Several women were inspired by Joan’s example and moved to courage by her murder. The most successful was Joan, the Maid of Sarmaize, who attracted a religious following that supported her in Anjou. She claimed to be the Joan of Arc returned and, like her predecessor, dressed in men’s clothing and armor. Several of Joan of Arc’s friends and family took her in and accepted her. Her actual identity was never known.

Onorata Rodiani was an ahead-of-her time portrait and mural painter who was busy immortalizing the Tyrant of Cremona in oils when an “importunate nobleman” barged into the sitting. Onorata whipped out her dagger and ended the rude noble’s life on the spot, but was forced to go underground as a fugitive. She put down the brush and took up the sword as the captain of a band of mercenaries and died in 1472 in an attempt to defend her birthplace of Castelleone. 

In 1745, a Scottish woman named Mary Ralphson fought at Fontenoy right beside her husband. Known as “Trooper Mary,” she wasn’t deterred by having only five fingers and one thumb, living through war to the grand age of 110. The Amazon of the Vendeans, Mademoiselle de la Rochefoucalt fought the Republicans when Louis XVI was murdered. She was only a teenager, but was famed for her speeches on the battlefield, “Follow me! Before the end of the day we either sing our victory on earth, or hymns with the saints in heaven.”

Alexandra Dourova was a Russian shero who fought against Napoleon as a colonel in the Fourth Hussars. In World War I, the very same regiment enlisted another fighting woman— Olga Serguievna Schidlowskaia.

Major Tamara Aleksandrovna was in charge of an all-female air force for Russia in World War II. Their phenomenal success is evidenced by their record of flying 125 combats, 4,000 sorties, and shooting down 38 Nazi aircraft. Other amazonian aviatrixes were Captain Budanova, Nancy Wak of New Zealand who flew for the allies in France and Ludmilla Pavlichenko who killed 309 Nazis by herself!

Nina Teitelboim, called “Little Wanda with the Braids,” was an anti-Nazi fighter who commanded a special force of Poland’s People’s Guard which blew up the elite Cafe Club, a hangout for the top-ranking Gestapo. Thus empowered, she was part of a raid on the Nazis, stealing back the enormous stockpiles of cash the Nazis themselves had stolen from the people of Warsaw. After this success, the price on her head was higher than ever, and she was captured and executed.

Florence Matomelo was a soldier in the anti-apartheid resistance movement. In 1965, she was arrested for her role in the African National Congress (Pro Azanian or black South African rebel government) and confined to solitary where she was starved, beaten, interrogated, and deprived of the insulin she needed for her diabetes. She died after five years of this abuse, leaving behind several children. She had led a life of constant courage, defying and protesting the unfair practices of apartheid laws, and she died for her cause, having made invaluable contributions to the changes that finally freed black South Africans from the racist rule set up by colonial whites.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Other Fighting Femmes of the Ancient World

Boadicea_Haranguing_the_Britons_(called_Boudicca,_or_Boadicea)_by_John_Opie
“Boadicea Haranguing the Britons” By John Opie

Marpesia, “The Snatcher,” was the ruler of the Scythian  Amazons along with Lampedo. In frenzies, Maenads were fierce creatures, not to be toyed with, especially after a few nips of ritual new grape wine, Marpesia wrestled and tore off the head of her own son, Pentheus, in one of her ecstasies, mistaking him for a lion. She then paraded around proudly holding his decapitated head up for all to see. Her husband met a similar end in another rite. Agave was a Moon-Goddess and was in charge of some of the revelries that were the precedent for Dionysus’ cult. Euripides celebrated the ferocity of Agave and her fellow Maenads, Ino and Aunonoë, in his Bacchae, as soldiers report how “we by flight hardly escaped tearing to pieces at their hands” and further describe the shock of witnessing the semi-divine females tearing young bulls limb from limb with their terrible “knifeless fingers.” In his version, Pentheus died while trying to spy on the private ritual of the Maenads in transvestite disguise.

Aba was a warrior who ruled the city of Olbe in the nation of Tencer around 550 B.C. She got support from some very high places such as the likes of Cleopatra VII and Marc Anthony! Tencer remained a matriarchy after her rule, passing to her female descendants.

Abra was Artemesia’s (Queen of Caria and military advisor to Xerxes) sister and a warrior-queen (circa 334 B.C.) in her own right. The brilliant military strategist Alexander helped her regain her throne from her invasive brother. She led and triumphed in the siege of the  capital’s acropolis, after which she was able to take the city. Her ferocity was aided by the intense emotions of a cross-gender civil war within her family, “the siege having become a matter of anger and personal enmity,” according to Strabo.

Hercules was the fiercest, that is, until he ran up against Admete, aka “The Untamed,” who bested him and made him serve the Goddess Hera, the wife of Zeus, who detested Hercules. Hera rewarded Admete for her loyalty and excellence by appointing her head priestess of the island refuge Samos; Admete, in turn honored by her Goddess with her evangelical fervor, expanding the territory of Hera’s woman cult to the far reaches of the ancient world.

Aëllopus was a Harpy who fought the Argonauts; her name means “Storm-Foot.”

Cratesipolis was Queen of Sicyon around 300 B.C. She stood in battles beside her husband, the famous Alexander the Great, and fought on even after he died. She ruled several important Greek cities very successfully and managed a vast army of soldier-mercenaries. She went on to take Corinth for Ptolemy and nearly married him, but the plans fizzled.

Larina was an Italian Amazon who accompanied Camilla in the Aeneid along with fellow comrades-in-arms, Tulia, Acca, and Tarpeia. According to Silver Latinist poet Virgil, “they were like Thracian Amazons when they make the waters of Thermodon tremble and make war with their ornate arms, either around Hippolyte or when warlike Penthesilea returns in her chariot and the female armies exult, with a great ringing cry and the clashing of crescent-shaped shield.”

Rhodogune, queen of ancient Parthia in 200 B.C., got word of a revolt when she was taking a bath. Vowing to end the uprising before her hair was dressed, she hopped on her horse and rushed to lead her army to defense. True to her word, she directed the entire, lengthy war without ever bathing or combing her hair. Portraits of Rhodogune always faithfully depict her dishevelment. (Another queen of the ancient world, Semiramis, also pulled herself from the bath to the battlefield act when her country needed a brave leader.)

Of the royal lineage of Cleopatra, Zenobia Septimus preferred the hunt to the bath and boudoir. She was queen of Syria for a quarter-century beginning in 250 A.D. and was quite a scholar, recording the history of her nation. She was famed for her excellence on safari, specializing in the rarified skill of hunting panthers and lions. When the Romans came after Syria, Zenobia disgraced the empire’s army in battle, causing them to turn tail and run. This inspired Arabia, Armencia, and Periso to ally with her and she was named Mistress of Nations. The Romans licked their wounds and enlisted the help of the barbarians they conquered for a Roman army including Goths, Gauls, Vandals, and Franks who threatened to march against Zenobia’s league of nations. When Caesar Aurelius sent messengers requesting her surrender, she replied, “It is only by arms that the submission you require can be achieved. You forget that Cleopatra  preferred death to servitude. When you see me in war, you will repent your insolent proposition.” And battle they did. Zenobia fought bravely, holding her city Palmyra against the mass of invaders for longer than anyone thought possible. Upon her capture, Zenobia was taken to Rome in chains, jewels, and her own chariot, and she was given her own villa in Rome where her daughters intermarried into prominent families who ruled Rome.

Boudicca’s name means “victorious” in the language of the Celts. She is the legendary warrior-queen of the Iceni of Norfolk who led a rebellion against the invading Romans in the year 61 A.D., and sacked the Roman’s settlements, including Verulamium and Londinium, which she put to the torch. She took the lives of 70,000 Romans in her battles and was reputed to be “tall of person, of a comely appearance, and appareled in a loose gown of many colors. About her neck she wore a chain of gold, and in her hand she bore a spear. She stood a while surveying her army and, being regarded with a reverential silence, she addressed them an eloquent and impassioned speech.” She died in battle at her own hand, taking poison rather than be killed by an enemy of the Celts. Many women fought to defend their land and culture; the Celtic army consisted of more women than men!

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Penthesilea: The Real Thing

Penthesilea_Dubray_cour_Carree_Louvre
By Jastrow

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

The daughter of Orithia, Penthesilea was the ruler, along with her sister Hippolyte, of Amazonia, the Bronze Age Amazon nation in an area of the Black Sea. A fierce warrior, Penthesilea’s name means “compelling men to mourn.” During Orithia’s reign, repeated attacks from Greek war parties eroded the borders of their once widespread empire. The nation of Amazonia itself, however, lived in peace; its women warriors were regarded as the most highly skilled soldiers among all the armies of the world. Even the piratical adventurers of myth, the Argonauts, dropped their plans to invade Amazonia when they saw how peaceful and self-sufficient the country was.

Penthesilea was the greatest Amazon of all times. At first, her excellence with weaponry was primarily for the purpose of hunting. When her sister died, falling on Penthesilea’s spear during hunt, Penthesilea chose to channel her grief and rage into battle. At the request  of Queen Hecuba, she liberated the city of Troy, under siege by the Greeks for years. The link between Troy and Amazonia predates Homer and Euripides by centuries, and many scholars believe that Homer adapted his famous story from the Egyptian poetess Phantasia and reoriented it toward the patriarchal tastes of his Greek audience.

Essentially, Penthesilea’s Achilles heel was her desire to lead the attack on Troy, the last Goddess worshiping city-state in the Mediterranean Asia Minor. The legends vary, but the consensus among historians is that Achilles took one look at the powerful and pulchritudinous Penthesilea  and fell deeply in love. They battled ruthlessly one-on-one, and the Amazon queen proved to be the only soldier Achilles had ever encountered who was his equal. One version depicts the great Penthesilea taking Achilles’ and dozens of other Greeks’ lives on the battlefield  surrounding Troy, only to be confounded when the God  Zeus brought Achilles back to life. In this version, she  died, but Achilles’ grief was so severe that he killed  several of his allies who had mutilated her corpse (in  one version he rapes her corpse in a wanton necrophilic lust). Other tellings of the tales have Penthesilea brutally killing the Greek and falling in love with him as his dying eyes lock with hers, then setting upon his corpse and devouring him, in a final act of savage love.

Only sections of the ancient poem Aethiopis  that describe Penthesilea and the liberation of Troy have managed to  survive from antiquity. They include a suffragistic speech  made by the amazing amazon herself: 

“Not in strength are we inferior to men; the same our eyes, our limbs the same; one common light we see, one air we breathe; no different is the food we eat. What then denied to us hath heaven on man bestowed? O let us hasten to the glorious war!”

Audrey Niffenegger: Her Fearful Symmetry

AudreyNiffenegger
By Michael Strong

Audrey Niffenegger, an artist and writer of mysteries, was born in South Haven, Michigan, and grew up in Evanston, Illinois. She currently resides in Chicago with her husband, the artist and writer Eddie Campbell. She makes frequent trips to London.

Niffenegger pursued printmaking starting in 1978 at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and got her MFA from Northwestern University’s Department of Art Theory and Practice in 1991. Printworks Gallery in Chicago has exhibited her artist’s books, prints, paintings, drawings and comics at  since 1987. In 2013, a retrospective of her prints, paintings and artist’s bookworks opened at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC.

Audrey’s first books were printed and bound by hand in editions of ten. Two were mass- published by Harry N. Abrams: The Adventuress and The Three Incestuous Sisters. In 1997, she an idea for a graphic novel about a time traveler and his wife. She decided the project would be more effective as a novel, and published The Time Traveler’s Wife in 2003 with the independent publisher MacAdam/Cage. It was an international best seller, with a film adaptation.

Niffenegger’s second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, was published in 2009 by Scribner (USA), Jonathan Cape (UK) and other publisher’s around the world. She published The Night Bookmobile, a 2018 serialized graphic novel for the London Guardian, which was in September, 2010. In 2013, her illustrated novella, Raven Girl, was published in conjunction with the Royal Opera House Ballet production of the same name, choreographed by Wayne McGregor. Raven Girl returned to the main stage at Covent Garden in October 2015.

In 1994 Audrey Niffeneggar was part of the group of book artists, papermakers and designers who united to establish the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts. There, she taught book arts as an Associate Professor in Columbia College’s MFA program in Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts. She was also a Professor on the faculty of the Columbia College Creative Writing Department until May 2015. Additionally, she taught for the Newberry Library, Penland School of Craft, Haystack, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, among other higher learning institutions. Audrey is currently taking a break from teaching in order to pursue her personal work.

Audrey’s projects-in-progress are a sequel to The Time Traveler’s Wife, tentatively titled The Other Husband, continuing work on The Chinchilla Girl in Exile, and a collection of illustrated adaptations of her short stories, on which she is working with her husband.

Erin Morgenstern

Erin_morgenstern_2011
By Larry D. Moore

Erin Morgenstern the author of The Night Circus (2011) and The Starless Sea (2019). She grew up in Massachusetts and studied theatre and studio art at Smith College. She currently resides in the Berkshires with her husband and kitten. Morgenstern’s debut novel began as a National Novel Writing Month project. NaNoWriMo is an online based challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days in November. She cites  Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke and The Prestige by Christopher Priest (and the the film adaptation),  Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman, as influences on the novel. The Night Circus also borrows from classics and children’s literature from the likes Shakespeare, Dickens, Roald Dahl, Edward Gorey, and Neil Gaiman.  Erin Morgentsern finished the novel, sent out query letters and sample pages, followed agency guidelines, and ultimately found an agent to help her publish it. It was re-written three times and eventually published by Penguin Random House.  The Starless Sea is her sophomore effort. Of it, she says, “It’s about stories and storytelling and fate and time and video games. There is a lot of snow in it. And also bees.”

In addition to art and writing, Morgenstern is practitioner of tarot.  She  published The Phantomwise Tarot, a series of paintings based off of the Major Arcana, of which a very limited amount were made. Her personal favorite deck is The Wild Unknown. Astronomy is another favorite divinatory pursuit. She is a Cancer with a Leo moon and Taurus rising.  To unwind, Erin indulges in knitting, tea, and cocktails.