Monday, April 26, 2021

Just posted! Dorothy Wickenden, Executive Editor at The New Yorker, bestselling author of Nothing Daunted and host of the weekly podcast The Political Scene shares her new book, The Agitators.


THE AGITATORS
By Dorothy Wickenden

Scribner; on-sale March 30, 2021



"New Yorker executive editor Wickenden brings three fascinating women to life in rich, humanizing detail ... Wickenden pulls this history out of the dry dustiness of fact and adds color and warmth to its retelling. The women of our shared past deserve more treatments like this."
--Booklist


From the intimate perspective of three friends and neighbors in mid-nineteenth century Auburn, New York—the “agitators” of the title—acclaimed author Dorothy Wickenden tells the fascinating and crucially American stories of abolition, the Underground Railroad, the early women’s rights movement, and the Civil War.

PRAISE for THE AGITATORS

"Through extensive research and fluid writing, Wickenden rescues Wright and Seward from obscurity and provides a new perspective on Tubman’s life and work. This is an essential addition to the history of American progressivism." --Publishers Weekly (starred)

"[I]n the strength of the bonds forged among Wright, Seward, and Tubman, Wickenden offers hope for a healing of old wounds and a future where "the dignity and equality of all Americans" is an authentic reality. A well-researched, sharp portrait of the “protagonists in an inside-out story about the second American revolution." --Kirkus

In THE AGITATORS: Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women's Rights, Dorothy Wickenden--longtime executive editor at The New Yorker--traces the history of women's progressive politics in the US through the lives of Harriet Tubman, Martha Wright, and Frances Seward. Before women could be elected and participate in Congress, they made their impact behind closed doors--and readers get the story of abolition, the Underground Railroad, the early women's rights movement, the Civil War, and much more, told from the letters the women wrote to each other. It extends over 40 years--from the time when Tubman was still enslaved to two decades after the Civil War, in a radically changed United States.

Harriet Tubman--no-nonsense, funny, uncannily prescient, and strategically brilliant--was one of the most important conductors of the Underground Railroad and hid the enslaved men, women, and children she rescued in the basement kitchens of Martha Wright, Quaker mother of seven, and Frances Seward, wife of Governor, then Senator, then Secretary of State William H. Seward.

Harriet worked for the Union Army in South Carolina as a nurse and spy, and took part in a river raid in which 750 enslaved people were freed from rice plantations. Martha, a "dangerous woman" in the eyes of her neighbors and a harsh critic of Lincoln's policy on slavery, organized women's rights and abolitionist conventions with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Frances gave freedom seekers money and referrals and aided in their education. The most conventional of the three friends, she hid her radicalism in public; behind the scenes, she argued strenuously with her husband about the urgency of immediate abolition.

Many of the most prominent figures in the history books--Lincoln, Seward, Daniel Webster, Frederick Douglass, Charles Sumner, John Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Lloyd Garrison--are seen through the discerning eyes of the protagonists. So are the most explosive political debates: about women's roles and rights during the abolition crusade, emancipation, and the arming of Black troops; and about the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Like Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals and David McCullough's John Adams, Wickenden's The Agitators is revelatory, riveting, and profoundly relevant to our own time.


Dorothy Wickenden is the author of Nothing Daunted and The Agitators and has been the executive editor of The New Yorker since January 1996. She also writes for the magazine and is the moderator of its weekly podcast The Political Scene. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Wickenden was national affairs editor at Newsweek from 1993-1995, and before that was the longtime executive editor at The New Republic. She lives with her husband in Westchester, New York.



Praise for The Agitators:

"Through extensive research and fluid writing, Wickenden rescues Wright and Seward from obscurity and provides a new perspective on Tubman’s life and work. This is an essential addition to the history of American progressivism." --Publishers Weekly (starred)

"[I]n the strength of the bonds forged among Wright, Seward, and Tubman, Wickenden offers hope for a healing of old wounds and a future where "the dignity and equality of all Americans" is an authentic reality. A well-researched, sharp portrait of the “protagonists in an inside-out story about the second American revolution." --Kirkus



"New Yorker executive editor Wickenden brings three fascinating women to life in rich, humanizing detail ... Wickenden pulls this history out of the dry dustiness of fact and adds color and warmth to its retelling. The women of our shared past deserve more treatments like this." --Booklist


“An original portrait of three original women who muscled aside expectations, obligations, and neighborhood gossip for the sake of their consciences. Dorothy Wickenden not only resurrects these unlikely agitators but plunges us deep into their volatile world, with a supporting cast that includes Julia Ward Howe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Abraham Lincoln. This is rich and rousing history, crisply and intimately rendered, its moral collisions vivid and vital on the page.“ —Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra and The Witches


“The Agitators tells the story of America before the Civil War through the lives of three women who advocated for the abolition of slavery and women’s rights as the country split apart. Harriet Tubman, Martha Coffin Wright and Frances A. Seward are the examples we need right now—another time of divisiveness and dissension over our nation’s purpose ‘to form a more perfect union.’” —Hillary Clinton


"This is an extraordinary peek into the lives of three women who courageously pushed past the tight worlds that confined them to create the bones and muscle of the freedom movements that we now know. That they walked in a land of giants – Lincoln, Lee, John Brown – is no surprise. That they knew one another, were giants themselves, and accorded second class status is no surprise either. The treat is the refreshing decency, skillful ease, and extraordinary skill with which their stories are intertwined, showing how each pressed against the seams of imprisonment with such force and resilience that their collective song continues to resonate today. That is why Dorothy Wickenden is one of the deans of our game." —James McBride


“When writing about the Civil War era, focus is everything: how it is seen depends entirely on who is seeing it. In The Agitators, Dorothy Wickenden has fortunately chosen three brilliantly engaging characters. The result is unexpected, original, and profoundly illuminating.” —S.C. Gwynne, author of Hymns of the Republic and Rebel Yell


"Inspiring and important – and a rousing good read – The Agitators reminds us how, even in the darkest of times, there is light. And when a few fierce women join forces against that darkness, they can win." —Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle


"As a revolutionary, Harriet Tubman made many allies, none more important than her Auburn, New York, neighbors Martha Wright and Frances Seward. Wright, a middle-class Quaker, and Seward, the wealthy wife of a famous statesman, learned their activism from the abolition and women's rights movements that surrounded them, as well as from Tubman's incomparable example. This is a unique, lyrically written, exhaustively researched, triple biography of epic proportions about three women, mothers and organizers all, woven into a single narrative about their activist struggles before and during the Civil War. Their lives burst from these pages, as do the crusades that began the liberation of African Americans and women across the nineteenth century. Wickenden possesses a novelist's eye for detail and a historian's passion for story, in a book about women with no formal political rights who changed their world." —David W. Blight, Yale University, author of Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom


"Dorothy Wickenden seamlessly weaves together the lives of her protagonists with the times that influenced them, and that they in turn profoundly affected. Vivid, enlightening, and engrossing, here is the story of three women who are fixtures of history but whose relevance to the present could scarcely be more apparent." —Jelani Cobb, Professor at the Columbia School of Journalism and the author of The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress

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