Patricia O'Brien's award-winning career has spanned the worlds of books - fiction and non-fiction - journalism, politics and education.
Her latest novel, The Dressmaker, written under the pseudonym of Kate Alcott, is a New York Times best seller. Centered on the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic, it was published by Doubleday in 2012. Another novel, The Daring Ladies of Lowell, is slated for publication in 2014.
She is the co-author, along with Ellen Goodman, of the New York Times non-fiction bestseller entitled, I Know Just What You Mean The Power of Friendship In Women's Lives.
She is also the author of two other historical novels, Harriet and Isabella, a novel about Harriet Beecher Stowe, which was published by Simon and Schuster in January, 2008. The Glory Cloak, a novel about the experiences of Louisa May Alcott and Clara Barton as nurses in the Civil War. Her other works of fiction include The Candidate's Wife, The Ladies' Lunch, and Good Intentions. Her earlier non-fiction books include The Woman Alone and Staying Together: Marriages That Work.
From 1976 to 1987 she was a political correspondent and columnist for Knight-Ridder newspapers in Washington, covering the Reagan White House, Congress and the 1984 national political campaigns of Gary Hart and Geraldine Ferraro.
From journalism she switched to politics, becoming press secretary for Governor Michael Dukakis when he ran for president in 1987. In 1988, she was awarded a Freedom Forum Fellowship at Columbia University. cO'Brien graduated from the University of Oregon in 1966, and then began her journalistic career at the South Bend Tribune in South Bend, Indiana. In 1970, she began working for the Chicago Sun-Times, first as a reporter, then as a columnist and editorial writer. She became a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 1973.
She has been a commentator for CBS-TV's Morning News and also for the CBS-Radio program, Spectrum, as well as for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She has written for a number of magazines, including Good Housekeeping, Esquire, Working Woman, Notre Dame Magazine, Glamour and Harper's Bazaar. Her book reviews have appeared in The New York Times.
O'Brien was the Baltimore Sun Distinguished Lecturer at the University of Maryland School of Journalism in 1989, where she taught a course on journalistic ethics. She has also taught at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She has four grown daughters and lives with her husband, Frank Mankiewicz, in Washington, D.C.
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Patricia O'Brien discusses her novel Harriet & Isabella, about the trial of Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin
This is your second novel imagining the relationships
between famous figures in American history. Can you tell us a little about your
process for writing Harriet and Isabella? Was it different than the
process that gave birth to The Glory Cloak?
The most important part of the process at the beginning this time was deciding what to discard. The Beecher saga is incredibly rich, and picking one route into the lives of Harriet and her brothers and sisters meant walking away from other, equally tantalizing paths. But that's what a novelist has to do.
What stayed the same was my being drawn into the lives of these people through something tangible that made them real to me. In The Glory Cloak, it was running across an obscure account of Louisa May Alcott's work as a Civil War nurse and reading about the discovery of Clara Barton's long-forgotten Missing Soldiers office in downtown Washington. Visiting those rooms was like stepping into a time capsule and I had a feeling that I could talk to Clara.
In Harriet and Isabella, it was the gold ...
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