Professor's novel praised by NYT

by Kelsey Drain / Beacon Staff • January 22, 2014

Megan Marshall's novel "Margaret Fuller: A New American Life" received numerous accolades.
Courtesy of Eric Antoniou
Megan Marshall's novel "Margaret Fuller: A New American Life" received numerous accolades.
Courtesy of Eric Antoniou

Writing, literature, and publishing professor Megan Marshall’s biographic novel Margaret Fuller: A New American Life was awarded a spot on the New York Times’ list of the 100 Notable Books of 2013. The book, which was published in March, received positive reviews from the beginning, but Marshall said she was still surprised by the recent recognition and humbled by the response of the Emerson community.

Margaret Fuller, Marshall’s sophomore work, follows the story of an American heroine that is seldom taught in history class. Fuller was a profound speaker, editor, columnist, and advocate. She spent her early life in Boston and tragically died in a shipwreck at age 40.

“What I really like to do is write about people who are a little bit below the radar and that I research in a very scholarly way, but I like to reach a general audience with writing so that more people will know about Margaret Fuller or the Peabody Sisters,“ said Marshall, referring to her first biography, The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism.

The Peabody Sisters won multiple awards, including one from the Society of American Historians, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in biography and memoir. The story follows the lives of the three New England sisters and their influence on building America in the 19th century. Like Margaret Fuller, it features famous literary figures — Henry David Thoreau, Horace Greeley, Ralph Waldo Emerson — as well as romance.

Along with being one of the 100 most notable, Marshall was also awarded a spot in New York Times literary critic Dwight Garner’s list of top 10 books of 2013. Garner wrote a favorable review of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life when it was published. 

According to Marshall, Garner has a reputation for being a very tough critic, and she said the acknowledgment is especially gratifying.

“Ms. Marshall’s rigorous book stands on the shoulders of earlier scholarship and many previous biographies of Fuller,” Garner’s review of the biography reads. “It doesn’t contain a vast amount of new material. But in Ms. Marshall, Fuller has found what feels like her ideal biographer.”

Marshall is on leave for the spring semester to work on a short biography on 20th century poet Elizabeth Bishop. Marshall took a poetry workshop class with Bishop at Harvard her senior year, and said she has always been very attached to her work.

Bishop was born in Worcester and spent the last few years of her life in Boston. According to Marshall, she had one of the first condos on the waterfront development Rowe’s Wharf when the city was renovating the seaport in the 1970s.

“You have to say she was a New-Englander, but not in the same way that my other 19th century subjects were very identified with the region,” said Marshall.

The text will appear in a series of short biographies called Icons, edited by James Atlas, a biographer and editor, who asked her to contribute to the series. The collection will be published as an eBook by Amazon and in hardcover by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Marshall’s publisher for the other two biographies.

“That’s another way in which the college has been very supportive of my work, in allowing me this semester off in order to meet a sudden, short deadline for this short book,” said Marshall, who has worked at Emerson for over six years. “It was nice that the college put this information on their newsfeed, but the department has also been making use of this just to let people out in the world understand what kind of work our faculty does.”

Rachel Simon, a junior WLP major, took a nonfiction workshop with Marshall this past fall semester and sent her professor a congratulatory email when the New York Times list was released online, before the print version was published.

“I thought that was really cool that her book was getting such recognition,” Simon said. “That’s amazing to get your book on a list like that.”