O'keefe, Deborah (Janney) 1939-
O'KEEFE, Deborah (Janney) 1939-
Female. Born May 10, 1939, in New York, NY; daughter of Laurence (a lawyer) and Harriet (a social worker; maiden name, Crawford) Janney; married Daniel Lawrence O'Keefe (an editor and writer), 1963; children: Daniel, Laurence, Markham. Education: Smith College, B.A., 1960; Cornell University, M.A. (English), 1963; Columbia University, Ph.D. (English and American literature), 1971. Politics: Democrat.
English teacher, editor, and writer. Hobart-William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY, assistant professor of English, 1960-61; Reader's Digest Educational Division, assistant editor, 1961-62; Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, visiting assistant professor of English, 1977-79; Manhattanville College, Westchester, NY, director of writing program and assistant professor of English, 1980-86; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, Center for Gifted and Talented Youth, expository writing program teacher, 1987-90.
Good Girl Messages: How Young Women Were Misled by Their Favorite Books, Continuum International (New York, NY), 2000.
Readers in Wonderland: The Liberating Worlds of Fantasy Fiction; from Dorothy to Harry Potter, Continuum International (New York, NY), 2003.
Author of the three-part article "Hardscrabble House: A Farmhouse in Three Centuries," published in the Westchester Historian: Quarterly of the Westchester County Historical Society, summer, 1997, fall, 1997, and winter, 1998. Also author of "Anasazi Summer," a travel essay about New Mexico, published in Season of Adventure, edited by Jean Gould, 1996. Also contributor to The Continuum Encyclopedia of Young Adult Literature and to newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, American Heritage, and McCall's.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
Nineteenth and twentieth century popular women's fiction.
In Good Girl Messages: How Young Women Were Misled by Their Favorite Books, Deborah O'Keefe applies her knowledge of children's literature to one of its more insidious aspects. As Elaine J. O'Quinn put it in a review for NWSA Journal, "O'Keefe deftly outlines how traditional fiction for girls encourages them to be suffering, passive, bystanders of life." O'Keefe's study concentrates primarily on books written before the 1950s, but which remain perennial favorites, such as Misty, Anne of Green Gables, and Little Women. Different chapters of Good Girl Messages focus on girl characters' relationships to adults and to each other, and of course their romantic entanglements with boys and men. According to O'Keefe's study, even in cases where heroines such as Anne or Jo question the assumptions of marriage and "a woman's place," they generally conform in the end.
Library Journal contributor Carol Ann McAllister noted, "O'Keefe's close readings do uncover many negative literary images that, no doubt, have affected young readers of both genders." As the author acknowledges, these portrayals certainly affected her own outlook as an adult. At the same time, O'Keefe notes that young adult literature has changed for the better. "What will interest most readers is her final chapter, crammed with examples of today's strong girl characters," commented Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman. Still, those classics remain popular and widely available, and O'Keefe urges parents and relatives who pass on a favored book from their childhood to be aware of the message they may be sending.
In her 2003 book, Readers in Wonderland: The Liberating Worlds of Fantasy Fiction; from Dorothy to Harry Potter, O'Keefe examines more than 200 contemporary fantasy novels. Reviewing the book in School Library Journal, Margaret A. Chang commended Good Girl Messages as a "comprehensive survey" but noted that there are "a few startling omissions," including Ann Shlee's novel The Vandal.
O'Keefe told CA: "I have been working with material (analysis of children's literature) usually treated within the bounds of academic writing, but I have chosen to handle this material in an informal and personal, rather than academic, style. My books are written for a general audience of people who care about books and about children.
"In a book or article I like to pull together a lot of stuff, packing in a good deal of information and some rumination. While my two books are about children's reading, articles have examined my own travels, my family, and the history of my house. My natural writing voice seems to present a sensible but not godlike mind trying to make some sense out of pieces of the world. I am cautious about abstractions and very respectful of the specific."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Good Girl Messages: How Young Women Were Misled by Their Favorite Books, p. 1320.
Library Journal, March 15, 2000, Carol Ann McAllister, review of Good Girl Messages, p. 86.
NWSA Journal, spring, 2003, Elaine J. O'Quinn, review of Good Girl Messages, p. 169.
School Library Journal, January, 2004, Margaret A. Chang, review of Readers in Wonderland: The Liberating Worlds of Fantasy Fiction; from Dorothy to Harry Potter, p. 167.