Dash, Joan 1925-
DASH, Joan 1925-
PERSONAL: Born July 18, 1925, in New York, NY; daughter of Samuel (a lawyer) and Louise (a lawyer; maiden name, Sachs) Zeiger; married J. Gregory Dash (a physicist), June 23, 1945; children: Michael, Elizabeth, Anthony. Education: Barnard College, B.A., 1946. Politics: "Progressive." Religion: Jewish.
ADDRESSES: Home—3900 Second Ave. NE, Seattle, WA 98105. Agent—Raines & Raines, 103 Kenyon Rd., Medusa, NY 12120.
AWARDS, HONORS: Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Nonfiction, and Sibert Honor Book, American Library Association, both 2001, both for The Longitude Prize.
A Life of One's Own: Three Gifted Women and the Men They Married, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1973, reprinted, Paragon House (New York, NY), 1988.
Summoned to Jerusalem: The Life of Henrietta Szold (for young adults), Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1979.
The Triumph of Discovery: Women Scientists Who Won the Nobel Prize (for young adults), Julian Messner (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1991.
We Shall Not Be Moved: The Women's Factory Strike of 1909 (for young adults), Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.
The Longitude Prize (for young adults), illustrated by Dusan Petricic, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2000.
The World at Her Fingertips: The Story of Helen Keller (for young adults), Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Joan Dash is a prizewinning author of biographies for young adults. Her early works, including A Life of One's Own: Three Gifted Women and the Men They Married, Summoned to Jerusalem: The Life of Henrietta Szold, and The Triumph of Discovery: Women Scientists Who Won the Nobel Prize, participate in the growing movement to bring to light the achievements of notable women in history. In The Triumph of Discovery, for example, Dash puts the spotlight on four women who have won the Nobel Prize since 1960; at the time of the book's creation, only ten Nobels had ever been awarded to women, including two to Marie Curie. Dash was praised for clearly elucidating the nature of these scientists' contributions, as well as placing their personal and professional life experiences in the context of their times. Perhaps most importantly, "the author communicates the excitement and satisfaction of a life in science," remarked Zena Sutherland in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.
Another group of unsung heroines is at the center of Dash's We Shall Not Be Moved: The Women's Factory Strike of 1909. Here, the author provides an affecting account of conditions for workers in New York City's garment district, many of whom were predominantly Jewish women who had recently immigrated to the United States. In gathering to protest their working and living conditions, the women confronted bigotry as well as stereotypes about the nature of women and of the working classes. Dash also portrays the society women who marched with and funded the strike, which was the first ever by women workers. "This is strong feminist history," praised Hazel Rochman in Booklist, who complained only about the lack of attribution of facts and quotes to the sources listed in the bibliography.
Returning to the world of science biography for The Longitude Prize, Dash offers a "rousing history" of the invention of a device used to measure longitude at sea, according to Steven Engelfried in School Library Journal. The Longitude Prize was offered by the British Parliament in 1714, after the tragic loss of British ships and sailors due to unreliable maps as there was no accurate instrument for measuring longitude at sea. For forty years, British clockmaker John Harrison pursued the prize, succeeding in the end by dint of sheer will and obstinacy as well as expertise, according to Dash's account, and overcoming not only the technical difficulties of creating a timepiece accurate enough to determine longitude, but also the class prejudices of those who offered the prize. "Rich anecdotes pepper her account of the difficult, often irascible Harris, but [Dash] never attempts to invent," remarked Susan P. Bloom in the Horn Book.
Other critics similarly noted Dash's straightforward approach to relaying what is certainly known about John Harrison, and carefully delineating what may be surmised from the historical record and what may only be guessed at. This is an issue that Dash addressed in her acceptance speech for the Horn Book/Boston Globe Award for Nonfiction, which she won in 2001 for The Longitude Prize. After working on the book that would become The Longitude Prize for several years, Dash explained, her editor gently pointed out that the spirit of the person at its center, John Harrison, seemed not to have made it into the book. "Maybe we could present a history of the search for longitude—making no secret of the fact that John Harrison was the lead character—and at the same time bring the reader face-to-face with the problem," Dash recalled thinking. "That is, we don't know much about him, but we can guess here, we can estimate there, we stand on firm ground here, here, and here, and this is why the ground is firm. In other words, discussing how we know the things we know—the artifacts we call history." Indeed, this aspect of the biography is one often noted by reviewers as a positive contribution to the book's accomplishment. "The piecing together of data by historians becomes a fascinating element of the book," remarked Engelfried. For others, Dash's greatest accomplishment in this biography is her ability to infuse the biography of a scientist and his three-hundred-year-old invention with energy and excitement. "Fans of science, history and invention and anyone who roots for the underdog will enjoy this prize of a story," concluded a contributor to Publishers Weekly.
Dash is also the author of The World at Her Fingertips: The Story of Helen Keller, a biography noted for taking young readers beyond the story of Keller's famous first encounter with language at the water pump. Here, Dash focuses on the life of the courageous woman whose fierce pursuit of independence took her to college and a career as a public speaker. Throughout, Dash emphasizes that this quest made Keller peculiarly dependent on those around her, especially her teachers, who taught her to speak by allowing the blind and deaf woman to put her hand in their mouths in order to determine placement and movement of tongue, jaw, and palate. In tribute to these kinds of details, Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan observed that Dash's account of Keller's life "seems closer to reality than the more idealized stories sometimes offered to children." For School Library Journal critic Jennifer Ralston, Dash's reliance on Keller's own autobiographies "brings the subject's vibrant personality, intelligence, and sensitivity to life in a way no narrative alone could." "Overall, readers will come way from this biography realizing how extraordinary Helen Keller was and, just as importantly, how she was a lot like everybody else," concluded a contributor to Horn Book.
Dash told CA: "I've come to believe that the writer's job is to tell a story, and that this is true for writers of nonfiction as well as fiction. The difference is that in fiction, the writer has to make up the story she's telling. With nonfiction, the writer must find the story within the material. Is there always story in the material? Of course there is. That's why a newspaperman is told to 'go out there and get the story.' Find the facts, then find the story within them."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of We Shall Not Be Moved: The Women's Factory Strike of 1909, p. 804; January 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of The Longitude Prize, p. 930; February 15, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of The World at Her Fingertips: The Story of Helen Keller, p. 1129; December 1, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Longitude Prize, p. 658.
Book Report, January-February, 1992, Eldorado Yoder, review of The Triumph of Discovery: Women Scientists Who Won the Nobel Prize, p. 51; September-October, 1996, Julie Burwinekl, review of We Shall Not Be Moved, p. 53.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1991, Zena Sutherland, review of The Triumph of Discovery, p. 6.
Horn Book, November, 2000, Susan P. Bloom, review of The Longitude Prize, p. 767; March, 2001, review of The World at Her Fingertips, p. 227; January-February, 2002, Joan Dash, transcript of acceptance speech for the 2001 Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Nonfiction, p. 35.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1991, review of The Triumph of Discovery, p. 44.
New York Times Book Review, August 25, 1996, review of We Shall Not Be Moved, p. 23.
Publishers Weekly, October 23, 2000, review of The Longitude Prize, p. 77.
School Library Journal, February, 1996, Ruth K. MacDonald, review of We Shall Not Be Moved, p. 116; November, 2000, Steven Engelfried, review of The Longitude Prize, p. 168; April, 2001, Jennifer Ralston, review of The World at Her Fingertips, p. 157.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1997, review of We Shall Not Be Moved, p. 163.