Excerpt from Audacity by Melanie Crowder, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Melanie Crowder

Audacity by Melanie Crowder X
Audacity by Melanie Crowder
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2015, 400 pages

    Jan 2016, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Sharry Wright
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About this Book

Print Excerpt


If I am to represent my union
If I am to be taken seriously
I cannot dress in old-world rags

I dip into my savings
just a little
for a shirtwaist
a smart skirt
new stockings
a hat
and a pair of boots
that fit.

I march across town
wait on the sidewalk
for the girls to be let out
of the worst shop
in the city.

I am sure
once or twice
I spot tawny wings flitting
at the edge of my sight
and out of view.

The workers take the circulars
I offer them
though it does nothing
to lift the haggard
hanging of their heads
the defeated
dim look in their eyes.

A policeman grabs me from behind
my papers flutter
to the ground.

Let go of me!
I shout,
I have done nothing wrong!

Disorderly conduct, ma'am,
the officer says.

He hefts me up
into the shadowed maw
of a police wagon.
We lurch away
and I grip the bench
to keep from being thrown to the floor
caked in filth.
I lift my feet up onto the wood beside me
tuck my head between my knees
try to coax
my stunned breath

the beginning

After a few hours
in the dank row of jail cells
called the tombs,
the magistrate issues a stern warning
and I am released.

I thought our local
was the answer;
I thought
if I just made a place
for the girls to go
—a union to hear their grievances
to work on their behalf—
my attention
could return
to my studies

but if there is no justice here,
in the law courts
in the city jails
I am afraid
my fight
is only beginning.

I fired my warning shot
they fired theirs;

it seems
a war
has begun.

New Year's Eve

In America,
the new year does not begin with Rosh Hashanah,
but on the first day of January.

Last night, a giant ball of light
slid down a flagpole
atop the Times Square building.
On the ground below
thousands of people whispered wishes
waiters served champagne,
the year 1908
emblazoned in miniature lightbulbs
on battery-powered top hats.

If I have one wish for the new year,
it is only
that I will study harder,
that I will be stronger
that the fight will never leave me,
no matter how hard it gets.


In this shop
division among the workers
is carefully cultivated.

A Jewish girl sits in between
two Italian women
so the workers cannot speak
to each other.

A girl making three dollars a week
sits beside another
making three times
her wage.

At lunch,
when we are free to mingle and chat
with whomever we choose
division of another kind

clusters of quiet conversation
form around the worktables
one for the men
one for the Italian women
one for the Jewish women
   trading recipes
   prayers asking forgiveness
       for working on Shabbos
one for the girls saving their pennies
   for tickets to the theater
       to watch Vera Komissarzhevskaya
       in one of Chekhov's plays
I sit with the girls warming their hands by the stove
reading from a book of Ibsen's poems.

The words
keep my mind
all afternoon.


I wish I had a clock of my own.

Excerpted from Audacity by Melanie Crowder. Copyright © 2015 by Melanie Crowder. Excerpted by permission of Philomel. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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