Author Dyana Furmansky to visit Vail
Vail, CO Colorado
The act of writing a story can take years. And telling someone else’s story – as a biographer does – takes lots of time as well, not only to get to know your subject, but also to understand the historical context in which they lived. In Dyana Furmansky’s case, the process took at least 18 years from inception to the completion of her book “Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy.”
Furmansky’s biography of Rosalie Edge, a progressive New York socialite and veteran suffragist, and the first American woman to achieve national renown as a conservationist, won the 2010 Colorado Book Award for Biography. With “Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy,” Furmansky fills a gap in the popular history of the early conservationist movement and what later became known as environmentalism, placing Edge in her rightful context between the stories of John Muir and Rachel Carson.
Furmansky will visit the town of Vail Public Library on Tuesday. She took the time to answer a few questions for the Vail Daily.
Vail Daily: Was there a singular incident that prompted you to write about Rosalie Edge?
Dyana Furmansky: I think it was when Rosalie’s 77-year-old son entrusted me his mother’s suitcase full of old family letters, dating to the 1880s. I had already done a lot of research in the Denver Public Library before meeting Peter Edge in Chicago, so I was knowledgeable, but still uncertain about whether I had a good enough story to turn into a book. I didn’t yet know that I was dealing with a character who was a cross between Dian Fossey and Edith Wharton. That suitcase contained hundreds of letters in their beautiful penmanship on yellowed vellum. Even without reading them I knew that if you want to write biography, exclusive use of original documents is the gold standard of this art. Or craft.
VD: Do you think Edge would have considered herself a conservationist? Environmentalist? Feminist?
DF: Rosalie Edge would not have called herself a feminist. She believed that women had different roles from men, of equal value and importance, but different. She insisted on being treated like a grand dame, which meant that she could insult men, but they had to treat her with respect. While she called herself a conservationist, she was the one who had thrown much mud on the word, because of conservationists’ limited focus on protecting relatively few species of plants, birds and animals based on the day’s science and their narrowly defined market value. Rosalie Edge embodied the spirit of environmentalism before there was such a thing; had she lived past 1962, when the term environmentalist began to be used freely, she might have called herself one.
VD: If she were alive today what do you think Edge would be supportive of the direction that conservationism and environmentalism has taken?
DF: With her deep sources within the Department of Interior of her time, I think she would have been the first to expose shenanigans in the Mineral Management Services Office – in our region as well as well as in Louisiana. Who knows? She might have been able to avert the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster by being the most persistent, merciless and loudest whistle blower, pointing out that once again, the wolf was guarding the chickens. But I don’t think she would have supported Big Corporate Environmentalism, any more than she supported Big Corporate Conservation. She hitched her star to independent initiative that grew out of individual responsibility for the planet. And she didn’t own a car.
VD: Has there been a difference between the local and national response to your book?
DF: “Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy” has been very well received by readers and reviewers around the country. Edge is of national importance, and her influence stretched, to borrow from Woody Guthrie, from California to the New York Island, from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream Waters …. Ironically, the book has gotten good press in lots of places but so far it has gotten no press in Denver. The book’s release in paperback means more readers will pick it up.
VD: Are you working on anything new?
DF: Yes. My agent has encouraged me to stick to this genre, which I define as “pre-apocalyptic nonfiction” concerning the very private reasons that humans –well-known ones – have for needing nature in their comfortable lives. The theme is like “Avatar,” only based on fact. It’s a genre that takes a long time to write, though a lot less than 18 years this time.
VD: If you could choose one other person past or present to write about who would it be?
DF: The answer to that question is in my next book.
VD: What are you reading now?
DF: I am in the midst of Mark Twain’s “Innocence Abroad,” and I just finished Thomas Mann’s elegant “Death in Venice.”
Besse Lynch works at the Bookworm of Edwards. E-mail comments about this story to email@example.com.