MARGARET MITCHELL fame in “the wind”

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection.

The fiery, redheaded, Irish Southern belle, whose family typified the antebellum South, went through a terrible war, saw her hometown of Atlanta burned in an uncontrollable conflagration, and lived to see the day when its streets were filled with soldiers. No, it wasn’t Scarlett O’Hara, but her creator and alter ego, whose family members were central characters in the history of Georgia.

Born in 1900, Margaret Mitchell came of age during the great mobilization of World War I. Her mother was feminist Maybelle Mitchell, a noted suffragist and founder of the Atlanta Women’s Study Club. “Nothing infuriated her so much,” reported Margaret later, “as the complacent attitude of other ladies who felt they should let the gentlemen do the voting.” She immortalized Mama in her famous novel, modeling the character of Rhett Butler after the tough- minded Maybelle.

A former flapper (who used her maiden name in a manner very uncharacteristic of genteel Southern ladies in the early decades of the century), Margaret began writing her epic novel in 1926 after a serious ankle injury ended her brief
career as a columnist for the Atlanta Journal. Never intended for publication, Gone with the Wind was instead viewed by Margaret as a very private exercise where she could weave together many of the stories that surrounded her. The manuscript evolved over a period of ten years into a massive cluttered stack of disjointed papers. She rarely spoke about it to anyone, although after a while, the existence of this huge pile of words became common knowledge among her friends, one of whom was MacMillan editor Harold Latham. In a 1935 visit to Atlanta, Latham asked Margaret if he could take a look at it.

Impulsively, and in retrospect, surprisingly, for someone who considered herself a poor writer and was extremely private about her writing, Margaret bundled up the huge stack of handwritten pages and dumped them onto his lap. Almost immediately she had second thoughts, and when Latham got back to New York, he found a telegram informing him that she had changed her mind and to send the manuscript back. But by then, he had already become ensnared in the saga (even though at the time, it lacked a first chapter and any semblance of order).

The rest, as they say, is history. Gone with the Wind was published in 1936. This huge (over a thousand pages) romantic saga of struggle and perseverance immediately captured the imagination of the Depression-battered public and went on to become a monumental bestseller. It was also the last book Margaret Mitchell would ever write (she had previously written parts of two novellas, Pansy Hamilton Flapper Heroine and Ropa Carmagin, but both remained unpublished and were destroyed after her death by her family). In 1996, Lost Laysen, another lost novella, was published by her estate, but it failed to capture the same attention as her greatest work.

The sheer scope of the impact that Gone with the Wind has made on the American cultural landscape is breathtaking. In many respects, due to its incredibly evocative description of the antebellum South, it has come to represent the exact opposite of what Margaret intended. Instead of a simple story about a young girl learning how to grow into a strong woman with her own identity, who is able to rely on her own wits and succeed, it became for many the one-sided symbol of nostalgia for a particular period in history that existed for a small elite group of slave owners, a way of life not at all typical of most Southerners of the time.

When asked her opinion about what made Gone with the Wind such a success and her fans so fervent, Margaret opined, “Despite its length and many details, Gone with the Wind is basically just a simple yarn of fairly simple people. There’s no fine writing; there are no grandiose thoughts; there are no hidden meanings, no symbolism, nothing sensational—nothing, nothing at all that have made other bestsellers. Then how to explain its appeal from the five-year- old to the ninety-five-year-old? I can’t figure it out.”

Margaret Mitchell, in a fashion true to the free-spirited, strong-willed, independent archetypal female character she created, went on to endow a medical chair providing full scholarships for African American students that has helped to create some of the best doctors in the United States. By the time she was tragically killed by a speeding taxicab on Peachtree Street in Atlanta at the age of forty-eight, Margaret’s greatness, on the basis of one book, was cemented forever in history.

The book lives on. The 1939 movie starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable only fueled the flames of fame. And while Mitchell’s estate’s decision to commission a sequel in the 1990s drew controversy, the resulting book, Scarlett, had no dearth of readers. At costume parties, there’s always bound to be a Scarlett or two; even Mattel has a Scarlett Barbie. The passion and power of Scarlett and the romance between the two firebrands is eternally appealing.

The usual masculine disillusionment is in discovering that a woman has a brain.

Margaret Mitchell, in Gone with the Wind

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

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie deconstructing inequality, moving between worlds

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria, the fifth of six children of Igbo parents; her father was a statistics professor at the University of Nigeria and her mother was the first ever female registrar at the same university. But during the Nigerian Civil War, the family lost nearly everything, including both Adichie’s paternal and maternal grandfathers.

Adichie’s work has appeared in publications including the New Yorker, the
O. Henry Prize Stories, and Zoetrope. She is the author of the novels Purple Hibiscus (2003), which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award; Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), which won the Orange Prize and was a New York Times Notable Book; and Americanah, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named one of the New York Times top ten best books of 2013. Adichie has also published a short story collection, 2009’s The Thing Around Your Neck.

Her 2009 TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” is one of the most viewed TED Talks of all time, and her 2012 TED Talk “We Should All Be Feminists” started a worldwide dialogue on gender dynamics; it was published as a book in 2014. Her most recent book, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, was published in 2017. A past winner of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, Chimamanda Adichie splits her time between the United States and Nigeria.

Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression “human rights” is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women—that the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem acknowledge that.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, from her 2009 TED Talk

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

Rebecca Solnit “Inside the word ‘emergency’ is ‘emerge’ ”

Not only is Rebecca Solnit the author of over twenty books, she is also
a historian and activist. Her books range in subject across the realms of “feminism, Western and indigenous history, popular power, social change and insurrection, wandering and walking, hope and disaster.” They include a trilogy of atlases plus such titles as The Mother of All Questions, Hope in the Dark, Men Explain Things to Me, and The Faraway Nearby, as well as A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster; A Field Guide to Getting Lost; Wanderlust: A History of Walking, and River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, which received the Guggenheim Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism, and the Lannan Literary Award. She is also a columnist at Harper’s Magazine.

Cause-and-effect assumes history marches forward, but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a movement, or her words do decades later; sometimes a few passionate people change the world; sometimes they start a mass movement and millions do; sometimes those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal, and change comes upon us like a change of weather. All that these transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination, in hope.

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

Roxane Gay a “bad feminist” takes on sexism, racism, and body prejudice

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Roxane Gay, born in 1974 in Omaha, Nebraska, to a family of Haitian descent, is an American professor, author, editor, and commentator. She began writing essays as a teenager; her writing was sparked by having survived a sexual assault at age twelve. Her higher education was interrupted by a relationship, but she returned to school and went on to receive a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and a PhD in rhetoric and communication from Michigan Technological University. She began her academic career teaching English at Eastern Illinois University; while there, she was a contributing editor for Bluestem magazine, founded Tiny Hardcore Press, and started to produce short stories, essays, and novels. Her fiction and nonfiction explore a variety of issues and challenges relating to race, gender, and sexual identity, and also delve into privilege, body image, and the immigrant experience.

Gay’s fiction works include Ayiti, An Untamed State (2014) and her bestselling novel Difficult Women (2017), as well as two New York Times bestsellers: Bad Feminist (2014) and Hunger: A Memoir of My Body (2017). Her writings have appeared in such publications as Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, McSweeney’s, Tin House, and American Short Fiction. She is an opinion writer for the New York Times; she is also the author of the Marvel Black Panther spinoff comic series World of Wakanda. She is working on several books as well as a number of television and film projects and is a visiting professor at Yale University.

Some women being empowered does not prove the
patriarchy is dead.
It proves that some of us are lucky.

Roxane Gay

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

SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR on her own terms

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Cette image est un recadrage d’une photo disponible sur Commons (cf. ci-dessus) avec un numéro de ticket otrs #2012112010011362. elle est publiée avec CC BY-SA 3.0

Existentialist writer Simone de Beauvoir was the founder of the feminist movement in France. Her book The Second Sex immediately took a place of importance in the feminist canon upon its publication in 1949 and established de Beauvoir’s reputation as a first-rate thinker. Although her brutally honest examination of the condition of women in the first half of the twentieth century shocked some delicate sensibilities, others were gratified to have someone tell the truth of women’s experience as “relative beings.”

Born in 1908 to what she characterized as “bourgeois” parents, she met the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in her early twenties in a salon study group at Paris’ famed university, the Sorbonne. They recognized each other as soulmates immediately and stayed together for fifty-one years in a highly unorthodox partnership, wherein they left openings for “contingent loves” so as not to limit their capacity for enriching experience. She eschewed motherhood and all forms of domesticity; the duo preferred cafés for all their meals. They lived together only very briefly during World War II and had difficulty protecting their privacy as word of the trendy new philosophy they espoused spread and their international prestige heightened.

While Sartre is generally credited as the creator of existentialism, de Beauvoir and the circle of leftist intellectuals that surrounded them were intricately involved in defining the movement. Her treatise Existentialism and the Wisdom of the Ages postulates the human condition as neutral, neither inherently good nor evil: “[The individual] is nothing at first,” she theorized; “it is up to him to make himself good or bad depending upon whether he assumes his freedom or denies it.”


De Beauvoir’s first literary efforts were fictional. In 1943’s She Came to Stay, she fictionalizes the story of Sartre’s youthful protégée Olga Kosakiewicz, who entered into a triangular living relationship with the two French intellectuals. Next, she tackled the male point of view in her epic treatment of death,
All Men Are Mortal, a novel whose central character was an immortal she tracked for seven centuries. In 1954, after the success of The Second Sex, de Beauvoir returned to fiction with The Mandarins, a novelization of the splintered and disenchanted French intelligentsia, including thinly disguised portrayals of Sartre, Albert Camus, and Nelson Algren, among others, which won the illustrious Goncourt Prize.

She continued to write and publish, creating a weighty body of work. Her penetrating mind is perhaps most evident in the series of five memoirs she wrote, the most famous of which is the first, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter. She outlived Sartre and died on a Paris summer day in 1986 after a long and thoughtful life, leaving a legacy of significant contributions to gender and identity issues as well as to philosophy and literature.

One is not born a woman, one becomes a woman.

The first line of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex

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

N.K. JEMISIN next-generation nerd turned pioneering prizewinner

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http://nkjemisin.com/about/

Nora K. Jemisin is an award-winning writer of speculative fiction (which includes such genre categories as science fiction and fantasy), including both numerous short stories and eight full-length novels. Born in 1972, she started off her writing career with a splash when The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms won the Locus Award for Best First Novel in 2011. That same year, she also cowrote a nonfiction work, Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture. She was a counseling psychologist and educator with degrees from Tulane and the University of Maryland; but via a 2016 Patreon campaign, she was able to raise enough collective funding so that since then, she has been able to focus solely on her writing, exploring themes including cultural conflicts and inequality. Also, from 2016 to 2019, “Otherworldly,” her column on science fiction, ran in the New York Times; she continues to contribute long-form reviews to that flagship newspaper.

She is the author of the Broken Earth trilogy, consisting of The Fifth Season (2015), The Obelisk Gate (2016), and The Stone Sky (2017); when The Fifth Season won a Hugo Award for Best Novel, she became the first African American author to win a Hugo in that category. Then the two sequels each won her another Hugo Award, making her the only author ever to win the Best Novel Hugo in three consecutive years. The Stone Sky also won a Nebula Best Novel Award as well as a Locus Best Fantasy Award, and a television adaptation of The Fifth Season is planned as of this writing. In 2019, a collection of her short stories entitled How Long ‘til Black Future Month? won an American Libraries Association Alex Award. Besides her distinguished fiction career, she is also an anti-racist and feminist political blogger. N.K. Jemisin lives in Brooklyn and is just hitting her stride as a writer of note.

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

MARGARET ATWOOD oracle of Ottawa

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On at least one occasion, prodigious writer Margaret Atwood has mentioned the comic book fantasies she read as a child in Ottawa as her primary influences, but she seems much more closely aligned with the Victorians she studied in her postgraduate work at Harvard. Born in Ottawa in 1939, she traveled with her entomologist father into remote areas of northern Canada and the bush of Québec. Educated at the University of Toronto, Radcliffe, and Harvard, she knew she wanted a career in writing by the age of sixteen and started actively working toward her dream two years later as a student at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College. By nineteen, she began to publish her poetry as well as articles in Victoria’s literary journal, Acta Victoriana.

Atwood’s writing often delves into the mythic, retelling Homer’s Ulysses, for example, from the vantage point of the women who were seduced and left behind. Her novels, including The Edible Woman, Surfacing, Lady Oracle, Life Before Man, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Alias Grace, give voice to the silenced. The natural world is another major theme for Atwood, as are her unique twists on the psychological. Her published work includes nine novels, four children’s books, twenty-three volumes of poetry, and four works of scholarship. She also is the editor of five anthologies. A film based on The Handmaid’s Tale was released in 1990, and her dystopian tale of women confined to a permanent underclass has now been adapted as a famed Hulu miniseries. The Testaments, a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale set fifteen years later, was published in 2019. Her novel Alias Grace has been released as a Canadian miniseries to great acclaim, earning a 99 percent approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes review site. In 2016, Atwood collaborated with illustrator Johnnie Christmas to create Angel Catbird, a graphic novel about a scientist who, in a way similar to the Hulk and Spiderman before him, is accidentally fused in a mutation-meld with the powers and some of the body parts of an avian and a feline.

In addition to being prolific, she is also among the most awarded writers, having received more than a hundred prizes for her excellent poetry and fiction. Moreover, she is claimed by her country of origin, Canada, as having helped to establish an identity for Canadian literature. Her work in the 1970s for Anansi Press very directly aided this cause. Survival, which she wrote in 1972, was an attempt at “a map” for charting Canada’s writers, followed by The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in 1982. Her sense of place is often a theme in her fiction and poems.

Although she does not call herself a “feminist writer,” Atwood said in an interview with Penguin Books that the question that drove her while writing The Handmaid’s Tale was, “If you were going to shove women back into the home and deprive them of all of these gains that they thought they had made, how would you do it?” (She has also stated that sales of that 1990 work jumped following the 2016 election in the United States.) Strong women rising against all odds appear again and again in her work, underlining her heroine’s final words in Surfacing: “This above all, to refuse to be a victim.”

I’m not a very good gardener, for the same reason I wouldn’t make a very good poisoner: both activities benefit from advance planning.

Margaret Atwood, from Various Gardens

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

RADCLYFFE HALL soldier of fortune

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Preferring tweeds to tulle, pioneering lesbian novelist Radclyffe Hall spent her life trying to find herself, but ironically, she has nearly been lost to modern readers. One can only hope that a biographer as accomplished as Diane Middlebrook will rescue her, alongside Billy Tipton, from the dustbin of history. What we do know about Hall from Lady Una Troubridge, her lover for more than a quarter-century, is that she was born in 1886 in Bournemouth, Hampshire, and had a wretched childhood. Abandoned by her father by age three and ignored by a mother preoccupied with a romance, Marguerite Radclyffe Hall began her life with a sense that she didn’t matter. This was greatly reinforced when Mrs. Hall remarried an Italian singing instructor who matched both mother and father in his cruel inattention to the growing girl.

By her teens, Radclyffe was alternately calling herself Peter or John and had one relatively unsuccessful year at King’s College, during which she struggled with her sexuality. At the age viewed as adulthood by most, twenty-one, Radclyffe inherited an immense trust fund and tried to forge a new life with her only familial tie, her mother’s mother, with whom she moved to Kensington. Hall’s grandmother had been the only source of affection up to that point. The relationship seems to have set a pattern for her future, as her first serious romance was with a woman twenty-three years her senior. The older woman, Mabel Veronica Batten, was a music patron with a secure position in society. She mentored Radclyffe and urged her to give up sports and take up more acceptable pursuits such as books and horses. Mabel Batten provided Hall with the education and nurturing she had missed in her childhood and molded her into an intellectual seeker and writer. Batten died in 1916, and Una Troubridge’s friendship during Hall’s grief led to love; they remained partners, living together until Hall’s death in 1943.

Hall dressed as a man in beautifully cut custom tweed suits and short clipped hair, which was shocking to some gentlefolk. A serious writer, Hall published several books of poetry and two novels before winning public attention in 1926, when she won the Femina–Vie Heureuse Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Book Prize for Adam’s Breed, a novel of religious awakening.

Her writerly accomplishments didn’t garner her nearly the attention—nay, commotion—she stirred up with her 1928 novel The Well of Loneliness. The book depicted a troubled but full and uncloseted pursuit of happiness. With
an introduction written by no less an authority than psychologist Havelock Ellis, Hall told the story of a girl named Stephen Gordon whose father wanted a son, not the daughter born to him. Stephen is a lively protagonist, pursuing other women lustily and working with the London Ambulance Column during World War I. Stephen professes to be a man inside a woman’s body trying to deal with the difficulties of the congenital invert in this portrayal of the lesbian as a biological blight.

Though it’s problematic for the more psychoanalyzed and feminism-aware reader of today, The Well of Loneliness was extremely radical for 1928. It exploded like one of the WWI shells that wounded Stephen’s ambulance passengers. The scandal following Hall’s new book concluded with a trial and the book’s prohibition. Several notables such as Virginia Woolf and Vera Brittain rushed to her defense, but English courts banned the book. Just like the subjugation of sapphists, both the character Stephen Gordon and her creator, Radclyffe Hall, were squelched. Radclyffe Hall followed her banned opus with several religious fictions, but the prosecution caused her to limit the scope of her subject matter, and, sadly, she was largely ignored from then on.

The coming of war had completely altered the complexion of her life, at all events for three years.

Radclyffe Hall, from Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself

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

CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN her land is your land

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This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c06490.

Niece of Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charlotte Perkins Gilman also felt, in her own words, “the Beecher urge to social service, the Beecher wit and gift of words.” Born in 1860, Charlotte attended the Rhode Island School of Design and worked after graduation as a commercial artist.

Exposed to the “domestic feminism” of the Beechers, the extremely sensitive and imaginative young woman had resolved to avoid her mother’s fate of penniless desertion by her father and assiduously avoided marriage. But after two years of relentless wooing by artist Charles W. Stetson, Charlotte reluctantly agreed to marry. After she bore her daughter Katherine, she had the nervous breakdown that inspired her famous short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” and subsequent nonfiction accounts of her struggle with manic- depressive episodes. She wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” for humanistic reasons: “It was not intended to drive people crazy,” she said, “but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.” Attributing her emotional problems in part to women’s status in marriage, she divorced her husband and moved to California with her daughter; later, when Walter remarried, she sent Katherine to live with her father and stepmother, a move that was considered incredibly scandalous.

Although she suffered weakness and “extreme distress, shame, discouragement, and misery” her whole life, Charlotte’s accomplishments are more than those of most healthy folks. A social reformer who wrote in order to push for equality for women, she lectured, founded the Women’s Peace Party with Jane Addams in World War I, and wrote her best-known book, Women and Economics, in only seventeen days. At one point, she undertook a well-publicized debate in the New York Times with Anna Howard Shaw, defending her contention that women are not “rewarded in proportion to their work” as “unpaid servant(s), merely a comfort and a luxury agreeable to have if a man can afford it.” Gilman was unbelievably forward-thinking for her time, even going so far as to devise architectural plans for houses without kitchens to end women’s slavery to the stove so that they could take up professional occupations.

She wrote five more books pushing for economic change for women, a critically acclaimed autobiography, three utopian novels, and countless articles, stories, and poetry before her death by suicide after a long struggle with cancer in 1935.

With the passing of time, Charlotte Perkins Gilman is usually remembered only for “The Yellow Wallpaper” and for her feminist utopian novel Herland, in which three American men enter Herland, an all-female society that reproduces through parthenogenesis, the development of an unfertilized egg.

I knew it was normal and right in general, and held that a woman should be able to have marriage and motherhood, and do her work in the world, also.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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

MARY BAKER EDDY true believer

Mary Baker Eddy was a farm girl from Bow, New Hampshire. Born in 1821, she came from humble circumstances, belying the will and passion that would make her the author of one of the most widely read books in the world, Christian Healing, and the founder of Christian Science. She spent the first part of her life in poverty, and details about her life are obscured by carefully edited authorized biographies. We do know that she was keenly interested in spiritualism and wandered from one boarding house to another, seeking out those run by spiritualists. In the mythology propounded by Christian Science historians, these wanderings are likened to those of Christ. One difference worth noting, however, is that Mary Baker was receiving channeled information from the dead, while the Bible makes no mention that Jesus heard such ghostly voices.

She got married along the way and served as a medium on many occasions, holding active seances where long-dead loved ones appeared and her voice would change to sound like other voices. An affidavit by one Mrs. Richard Hazeltine described Mrs. Eddy’s trances: “These communications [came] through her as a medium, from the spirit of one of the Apostles or of Jesus Christ.” Mrs. Eddy soon began to practice healing and eventually went on to deny that she had ever had anything to do with spiritualism.

Her life story is a confusing series of illnesses and cures of herself and everyone in her acquaintance, seemingly. Her dedication to her beliefs was mightily compelling to others, and her theories include such ideas as the Copernican reversal of the roles of mind and matter, man being “the image and likeness of God” and therefore “not matter.” Mrs. Eddy had, along with her other talents of mediumship, the ability to convince people and to lead them. She was nothing if not charismatic. She and her book have influenced, and perhaps even healed, many hundreds of people.

Change the mind, and the quality changes. Destroy the belief and tranquility disappears.

Mary Baker Eddy

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