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Grant number: FZ-231666-16

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FZ-231666-16

Carla Kaplan
Northeastern University (Boston, MA 02115-5000)

Queen of the Muckrakers: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford (1917-1996)

A book-length study of a social activist whose writing and organizing activities challenged the conventions of her age.

This is the first major book to examine the life, writing, and influence of Jessica Mitford, a woman who walked away from British aristocracy to eventually revitalize muckraking: one of the oldest forms of American narrative advocacy. Mitford’s three distinct life phases as a peer’s daughter, a communist, and a successful writer were all defined by dogged efforts to shed the precepts of her class and learn to empathize and identify with society’s least empowered. At the center of American civil rights struggles in Oakland, she crossed America’s intransigent color line, anticipating the “New Abolitionist” critique of race and prisons by two decades. Beginning with her 1963 blockbuster The American Way of Death, (an exposé of the funeral industry’s exploitation of the poor), Mitford’s writing re-introduced, and radicalized, Gilded Age ideas of civic responsibility in ways which continue to impact contemporary debates over social inequality, whistle blowing, and the ethics of writing.

Project fields:
American Literature; American Studies; Cultural History

Program:
Public Scholar Program

Division:
Research Programs

Total amounts:
$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2016 – 6/30/2017