Exceptional Women of Words, And More.
Kathryn McGarr, Christina Goldbaum, Azmat Khan, Linda Kinstler
According to the Financial Times, a leading candidate to be the next President of the World Bank is Samantha Power, currently the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development and previously, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
The current Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, thought to be a future Prime Minister is Chrystia Freeland. She has already served as Canada’s foreign and finance minister.
Women of words? Yes.
Both began their careers as young, very young reporters for newspapers and magazines. Power in the Balkans. Freedland in the Ukraine. Both became authors of important books, among them:
Power: A Problem From Hell: American and the Age of Genocide, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Non Fiction in 2003.
Freeland: Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, a New York Times bestseller.
Having known them in their reporting days, exceptional, as in remarkable, was just the beginning.
A “pal” of mine (in the guy parlance of the 1970s) in Indochina was Elizabeth Becker, who was there starting her career at The Washington Post. She has written a prizewinning book, You Don’t Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War. The three were Frances FitzGerald of The New Yorker, Kate Webb of United Press International and Catherine Leroy, a French photographer.
They were all brilliant in their own way and unusual enough to merit the story Becker tells so well in her book.
Fifty years later, whatever obstacles women face as writers, “You don’t belong here” (as far as I know) is not one of them.
I have chosen four young women whose work I know well and admire to make a bigger point. They are exceptionally talented but no longer exceptional to prove any rule about being unusual. Here they are, chronologically, as I met them.
Kathryn J. McGarr . In 2011, PublicAffairs published her book The Whole Damn Deal: Robert Strauss and the Art of Politics. Strauss was an especially colorful personality of his era in Washington. He never wrote a memoir, but he did do interviews for one. McGarr got them because she was his great-niece. It was a terrific book, although Strauss doubtless had secrets he wouldn’t tell even her.
McGarr then got a PhD at Princeton and landed a tenure track position at the University of Wisconsin. She has now published a second book, City of Newsmen: Public Lies and Professional Secrets in Cold War Washington (University of Chicago Press). This is a portrait, from the perspective of a twenty-first-century woman, of the culture of that time, with more than enough fascinating stuff to portray that era in a fresh and revealing way.
Christina Goldbaum. In 2018, Goldbaum was the winner of the Livingston Prize in International Reporting, the top accolade for journalists under thirty-five. The estimable judges chose her work over scores of others, rewarding the reporting she was doing for The Daily Beast in Somalia, a very far distance from her alma mater Tufts University and her home in Bethesda, Maryland.
She accepted an offer from The New York Times to join the metro staff and within a year or so was on the transportation beat, a major assignment. She is now covering South Asia as a correspondent in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Her energy and courage underscore reporting that is as good as the places are tough.
Azmat Khan is a winner of a 2022 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting she did for The New York Times, where she “grapples with the human cost of war.” Her investigative report headlined “Hidden Pentagon Record Reveal Patterns of Failure in Deadly Airstrikes” was the lead article in a powerful series. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has a degree from Oxford. She is a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and director of the school’s Simon and June Li Center for Global Journalism. She is working on a book for Random House. One of her colleagues attests that she handles all these projects with remarkable poise.
Linda Kinstler. I heard an interview with her about her new book Come to This Court and Cry: How the Holocaust Ends and discovered with pride that it had been published by PublicAffairs. The book has elements of investigative reporting, memoir, and insights about how the Holocaust appears from the distance of more than seventy-five years. Kinstler is finishing her PhD at Berkeley and doing reporting and editing at the same time. She is the Deputy Editor of The Dial, “a new online magazine of culture, politics and ideas with a focus, on locally sourced writing from around the world”. The magazine is the latest iteration of a publication that first appeared in 1840.
Finally, I want to mention Manasi Subramaniam who is editor-in-chief at Penguin Random House India, one of the country’s largest publishers. She was recently on a fellowship at Yale, and we had a lunch. Her explanation of the complex protocols of publishing serious books in India today was as impressive as it was troubling about the autocratic tendencies of India’s government. She also seemed to understand the protocols of U.S. publishing from a distance. Being savvy is a asset in modern publishing, apparently in India as well as here.
I cannot claim these women as “pals,” but watching their output in so many ways certainly makes me glad I have come to know them.
For those who read the Platform piece about Dusko Doder, the Washington Post Moscow correspondent smeared by American intelligence for his excellent reporting, there is a video of the event at the Li Center that as the moderator, I was glad to know, gave Dusko full recognition for his work as well as discussing coverage of Russia, when it was the Soviet Union and in the autocratic now.