Friday, September 30, 2022

Q&A with Julia Scheeres


Photo by Christopher Michel



Julia Scheeres is the author, with Allison Gilbert, of the new book Listen, World!: How the Intrepid Elsie Robinson Became America's Most-Read Woman. Scheeres' other books include A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown. She lives in Northern California.


Q: What inspired you to write this biography of journalist Elsie Robinson (1883-1956)?


A: The project kind of fell into my lap. I was approached by Allison Gilbert, a former CNN producer who’d been researching Elsie for years and wanted help turning Elsie’s story into a narrative. Once I started learning about Elsie’s incredible life drama, I was hooked. Allison and I made a great team; she researched, I wrote, and together we hammered out a book.


Q: How well known was she in her time, and why do you think she's so little known today?


A: One hundred years ago, Elsie Robinson was a household name – she was the highest-paid female columnist employed by Hearst.


I think she’s fallen into oblivion for many reasons. She didn’t have any heirs to keep her memory alive. She didn’t donate her “papers” to a university archive. Also, the public has a short memory. Who remembers the great columnists from 50 years ago, much less from 100 years ago?


Q: The historian Debby Applegate said of the book, “If you are a fan of spunky, spitfire heroines in the tradition of Hester Prynne, Elizabeth Bennett and Jo March, you will love the true story of Elsie Robinson.” What do you think of these comparisons?


A: I’m incredibly flattered! And yes – it’s true. But the cool thing – as she notes – is that Elsie Robinson was a real-life heroine, not a fictional character.


Q: How did you research Robinson's life?


A: Allison and I divvied up the labor. Allison used her producer acumen to conduct interviews and track down primary sources, I figured out the narrative puzzle to present the information in a compelling fashion. It was a fun collaboration.  


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m juggling a few projects – including one that returns me to the Jonestown story. That’s all I can really say at the moment.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I started a soap business with my daughters during the pandemic called “Sustainabar.” We make zero-waste bars of common household products including shampoo, conditioner, lotion, etc., to reduce plastic pollution. We’re now in five local retail stores.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Julia Scheeres.

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