Margaret Fishback: Background information when reading Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

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Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

by Kathleen Rooney

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney X
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2018, 304 pages

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Beyond the Book:
Margaret Fishback

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The titular character of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is modeled after real-life ad copywriter and poet, Margaret Fishback.

Margaret Fishback In a detailed biography of Fishback at the Poetry Foundation, Lillian Boxfish author Kathleen Rooney offers us a fascinating glimpse of a woman who was far ahead of her time, taking to print to declare that she didn't need a husband to support her. Starting out as a school teacher, Fishback took on a job at the lower rungs of copywriting at the prestigious department store R. H. Macy's (today referred to simply as Macy's) but quickly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming chief copywriter. She was a highly paid woman in the advertising world of the 1930s, a time when the Great Depression firmly had its grip over the United States.

The field of advertising, as most others, was dominated by men. Yet Fishback, with her whimsical yet succinct rhymes, succeeded in selling products to other women through her advertising.

A memorable ad for Macy's scotch whisky used the store's tagline "It's Smart To be Thrifty" to good effect (as an aside, while today Macy's is known as a more upscale department store, in the '30s it was good policy to emphasize thrift):

When you want a wee snifty ... / It's smart to be thrifty."
We'd charge for such a noble drink,
York House is called THE PEOPLE'S CHOICE.
Come lift your lubricated voice
With ours, in praise of Macy's Brand
Of Scotch! It's glorious! It's grand!
And popular as all get-out
of that there's not the slightest doubt.

A copywriter by day, Fishback penned poetry by night with her verses appearing in prestigious publications such as The New Yorker and The New York Times.

After years of independence, in her 30s, Fishback married the principal rug buyer at Macy's, Alberto Gastone Antolini. They had a son but the marriage did not last. The demands of wedded life and motherhood lead Fishback to quit her job at Macy's. Instead she freelanced for many years doing work for General Foods and Clairol among others.

As time went on, it became more difficult for Fishback to place her poetry as the jaunty rhyme-like style she favored slowly faded out of fashion. Fishback died at the age of 85 at her farm in Camden, Maine.

Picture of Margaret Fishback by G. Maillard Keslere and courtesy of St. Martin's Press

This article was originally published in January 2017, and has been updated for the April 2018 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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