Kessler, Lauren J. 1950-

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Kessler, Lauren J. 1950-


Born April 4, 1950, in New York, NY; daughter of Sidney (an auditor) and Margarita Kessler; married Thomas Arthur Hager (an author and magazine editor), July 7, 1984; children: Jackson, Zane, Elizabeth. Education: Northwestern University, B.S.J. (with honors), 1971; University of Oregon, M.S. (with honors), 1975; University of Washington, Seattle, Ph.D., 1980. Hobbies and other interests: Film, reading, running, historical renovation.


Home—Eugene, OR. Office—School of Journalism and Communication, 1275 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-1275. Agent—David Black, David Black Literary Agency, 156 5th Ave., Ste. 608, New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected]


CNA Financial Corp., Chicago, IL, advertising copywriter, 1971-72; Burlingame Villager, Burlingame, CA, city hall reporter, 1972-73; Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, instructor in journalism, 1974-75; Linfield College, McMinnville, OR, assistant professor of communication, 1975-80; regional correspondent for Salem Statesman-Journal, 1976-78; University of Oregon, Eugene, assistant professor, 1980-84, associate professor, 1984-91, professor of journalism, 1991—, director of graduate studies and research, 1986-88, 1994-96, director of literary nonfiction program, 1996—. Oregon correspondent for Newsweek magazine, 1987-90; founding editor, Etude (nonfiction literary magazine).


Oregon Historical Society.


Annenberg Scholar, University of Southern California, 1986; Sigma Delta Chi award, 1987, for social issues reporting; Council for the Advancement of Secondary Education award, 1987, for excellence in magazine writing; Freedom Forum professors publishing grant, Gannett Foundation, 1992, and Frances Fuller Victor Literary Arts Award, 1994, both for Stubborn Twig: Three Generations in the Life of a Japanese-American Family; Best Books 2007 designation, Library Journal, and Pacific Northwest Book Award, both 2007, both for Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's.


The Dissident Press: Alternative Journalism in American History, Sage Publications (Beverly Hills, CA), 1984.

(With Duncan McDonald) When Words Collide: A Journalist's Guide to Grammar and Style, Wadsworth (Belmont, CA), 1984, published as WhenWords Collide: A Media Writer's Guide to Grammar and Style, Wadsworth (Belmont, CA), 1992, 7th edition, Wadsworth/Thomson Learning (Belmont, CA), 2008.

(With husband, Thomas Hager) Staying Young: The Whole Truth about Aging and What You Can Do to Slow Its Progress, Facts on File (New York, NY), 1987, published as Aging Well, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1990.

(With Duncan McDonald) Uncovering the News: A Journalist's Search for Information, Wadsworth (Belmont, CA), 1987, revised edition published as The Search: Information Gathering for the Mass Media, 1992.

(With Duncan McDonald) Mastering the Message: Writing with Substance and Style, Wadsworth (Belmont, CA), 1989, 2nd edition, Kendall/Hunt (Dubuque, IA), 1999.

After All These Years: Sixties Ideals in a Different World, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 1990.

Stubborn Twig: Three Generations in the Life of a Japanese-American Family, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.

Full Court Press: A Season in the Life of a Winning Basketball Team and the Women Who Made It Happen, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.

The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes, Random House (New York, NY), 2000.

Clever Girl: Elizabeth Bentley, the Spy Who Ushered in the McCarthy Era, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's, Viking (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to books, including Encyclopedia of the American West, American National Biography, and Dictionary of Literary Biography. Contributor to periodicals, including Salon, Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, Nation, Utne Reader, Writer's Digest, Working Mother, American Journalism, New York Times Magazine, O, Etude, and Oregon Historical Quarterly.


Lauren J. Kessler once told CA: "I write in the genre of literary nonfiction, which combines the power of truth with the drama of fiction. I am motivated both by the story—its narrative thread, its subtexts and contexts, its enduring themes—and by the act of writing itself. Writing is how I learn, not just about my subjects but about myself. It is how I make connections, how I make sense of the world and my place in it. Writing for me is no longer an act of choice. When I am not writing, I do not feel quite human.

"I choose my nonfiction subjects because they are relatively small tales that open windows onto very big ideas. Stubborn Twig: Three Generations in the Life of a Japanese-American Family was an intimate chronicle of three generations in the life of one Japanese-American family, but it was also a book about what it means to be an American, about being a stranger in a strange land, about the deep and persistent current of racism in our country. Full Court Press: A Season in the Life of a Winning Basketball Team and the Women Who Made It Happen is ostensibly about one season in the life of a women's basketball team. But it is really about gender politics in sports, self-esteem, self-respect, and female friendship. The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes is the biography of a hell-raising pioneer aviatrix, but it is also a cautionary tale about women who break stereotypes and live boldly—and the price they pay."

Kessler's Full Court Press is one of the first full-length books to take an in-depth look at women's collegiate athletics and the persistent problem of inequality—in budgeting, personnel salaries, and status—between men's and women's athletic programs. Kessler followed the University of Oregon's women's basketball team through a winning season, paying particular attention to the coach's attempts to gain parity with her male counterparts. What interested the author "is reminding the reader of the quotidian problems that sill lie beneath the game's shiny new veneer," according to Christian Stone in an online Sports Illustrated review. Stone deemed Full Court Press "an important book," and in Booklist, Wes Lukowsky called it "arguably the best book yet on intercollegiate women's athletics."

With The Happy Bottom Riding Club Kessler rescues from obscurity the eccentric and flamboyant Pancho Barnes, an aviatrix who "lived at full throttle from the moment she discovered where the throttle was," according to Roland Green in Booklist. The title of the book derives from the private club that Barnes ran for Edwards Air Force Base test pilots during World War II, but the book offers a full chronicle of Barnes's many exploits and her suspicious death. Green felt that Kessler "does a fine, readable job" of presenting Barnes to readers who might not know much about her. New York Times Book Review contributor Tom Ferrell com- mented that the work "seems entirely credible as to how Barnes lived, and I certainly hope it is true as to how much she enjoyed it." A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded: "This intriguing tale … engagingly evokes a woman who lived like she flew—fast and dangerous."

In Clever Girl: Elizabeth Bentley, the Spy Who Ushered in the McCarthy Era Kessler relates the true story of American Elizabeth Bentley, who fell in love with a Russian agent during the 1940s. The relationship played off her own Communist leanings and disappointment in the politics of the post-Depression-era United States. As a result, she began to pass along classified government documents to the Soviet Union, working as a spy under the code name "clever girl." She continued in her duties until the death of her Russian lover, at which point the Soviets believed she was no longer a safe risk. Resenting their decision, Bentley ultimately turned against the Soviet Union in 1945 and went to the FBI. She proceeded to reveal the identities of numerous other spies during a series of testimonies before Congress. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that "Kessler's attempt to draw tension and romance from Bentley's life fails amid … unexplored details and a superficial rendering of early Communist history in the U.S." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews called the book "overwritten and slack." Other critics, however, found the work both solid and intriguing. Reviewing the book for Library Journal, Ed Goedeken declared it "a spellbinding tale of a woman who fell prey to her idealism and was then swept up in the furor of the Red Scare." Carol Haggas praised the biography in Booklist, stating that "Kessler masterfully explores and exposes the myriad, competing facets of Bentley's tumultuous life."

Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's is the result of several months that Kessler spent working in a low-paying position at a residential facility for Alzheimer patients. The experience stemmed from a writing assignment for which Kessler decided to take a hands-on approach, rather than simply researching the subject through interviews and other conventional methods. Having watched her own mother suffer with the disease years before, Kessler had a personal connection to the subject matter, one that was deepened through her experience as a resident assistant at Maplewood. Ultimately, her tenure at the facility was cathartic as it allowed her to work through some of the guilt she felt regarding her mother's illness and death. The book combines her memories of her mother, regret at their uneven relationship and her inability to handle her decline, and descriptions of her dealings with the Maplewood patients. Her experiences included feeding and cleaning them, as well as conversing and getting to know them and, in some cases, mourning their loss. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised Kessler's handling of a difficult topic, calling the book "a powerful lesson in the humanity of those we often see as tragically bereft of that quality." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews had a similar impression of Kessler's work, noting that it "offers an informative lesson and a comforting message for anyone with an afflicted family member."

Kessler once told CA: "My writing process has changed dramatically since I became a mother—now thrice over. Before children, when I hit a rough spot in a chapter, I whiled away the rest of the afternoon arranging pictures in photo albums and defrosting the refrigerator. Now I stay put and ride it out. I have to. I may have only two non-kid hours to write that day, and I'm not going to waste them."



Booklist, March 15, 1997, Wes Lukowsky, review of Full Court Press: A Season in the Life of a Winning Basketball Team and the Women Who Made It Happen, p. 1219; April 1, 2000, Roland Green, review of The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes, p. 1422; June 1, 2003, Carol Haggas, review of Clever Girl: Elizabeth Bentley, the Spy Who Ushered in the McCarthy Era, p. 1736.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2003, review of Clever Girl p. 790; April 15, 2007, review of Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's.

Library Journal, May 1, 2003, Ed Goedeken, review of Clever Girl, p. 135.

New York Times Book Review, September 17, 2000, Tom Ferrell, review of The Happy Bottom Riding Club.

Publishers Weekly, December 16, 1996, review of Full Court Press, p. 47; March 20, 2000, review of The Happy Bottom Riding Club, p. 77; June 2, 2003, review of Clever Girl, p. 43; April 9, 2007, review of Dancing with Rose, p. 46.

Sporting News, April 28, 1997, Steve Gietschier, review of Full Court Press, p. 8.


Lauren Kessler Home Page, (January 11, 2008).

Sports Illustrated Online, (October 18, 2000), Christian Stone, review of Full Court Press.

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Kessler, Lauren J. 1950-

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