Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Q&A with Stephanie Dray




Stephanie Dray is the author of the new novel Becoming Madam Secretary, which is based on the life of Frances Perkins, FDR's secretary of labor. Dray's other books include the novel The Women of Chateau Lafayette. She lives in Maryland.


Q: What inspired you to write a novel based on the life of Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins (1880-1965), and what do you see as her legacy today?


A: I was inspired to write about Frances Perkins because her story resonated with me on a personal level.


Growing up, I heard tales of resilience from my grandparents, stories of struggle and survival during the Great Depression. These narratives weren't just family lore; they were echoes of a nation fighting to find its footing.


Her legacy, to me, is not just in the laws she helped pass but in the spirit of determination and compassion she embodies. Today, her work lives on in every safety net and labor right we sometimes take for granted, a testament to her unyielding dedication to social justice.


Q: What did you see as the right balance between her professional life and her personal life as you wrote the novel, and what did you see as the right blend between fiction and history?


A: Finding the balance between Frances Perkins' public and private lives was a dance of respect and imagination. Though I anchored the novel in the factual bedrock of Perkins' monumental achievements, I also wove in fictional threads to bring her to life as a fully realized character.


This blend allows readers to connect with her not just as a historical figure but as a woman who had a personal life. She was a woman who loved, struggled, and ultimately triumphed.


Q: How did you research her life, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: Researching Frances Perkins, I dove into her oral histories, sifted through her papers, and even listened to recordings to capture her voice.


The most surprising discovery wasn’t just the breadth of her impact—but about her dynamic relationship with Roosevelt, and how it evolved from mutual dislike into a partnership that changed the world.


Q: What do you think she would say about today's politics?


A: If Frances Perkins were to weigh in on today's political landscape, I imagine she'd have much to say about the importance of safeguarding the rights and welfare of the working class.


She'd likely champion the need for empathy, equity, and action in policy-making, reminding us that progress is always possible with perseverance and principled leadership.


Perkins understood the power of collective action and the impact of compassionate governance; her voice would be a call to return to those principles.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Currently, I'm delving into the life of another formidable figure in American history, Abigail Adams. Another woman ahead of her time, deeply engaged in the fabric of our nation's founding and evolution.


This new project is a continuation of my journey to unearth and illuminate the stories of women who've shaped our history, their legacies a beacon for understanding our past and navigating our future.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Frances Perkins was a powerhouse with a parasol and a plan for saving America. She’s the most important woman in the nation’s history and I will die on this hill! I know readers will love her, and I hope they will stay in touch with me as part of my VIP Reader and Historical Book of the Month Club at StephanieDray.com.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Stephanie Dray. 

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