Cover To Cover is the anchor program for GPB’s literary coverage. Cover To Cover features a collection of distinctive Southern voices interviewing Georgia writers, Southern writers, and writers dealing with the South. The GPB Southern Lit Cadre will provide you with a varied, weekly glimpse at fiction, non-fiction, history, poetry, and even the occasional ‘old school’ nod to Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Loosening Corsets

As a transplant to Georgia, I still find myself discovering things about my adopted home that I find truly fascinating; things that constantly make me proud to be living here in the largest state east of the Mississippi (that's one of those things!).

The latest fact to catch my attention is that the first woman senator of the United States was from Georgia. Not many people know that. In fact I'd go so far as to say not many Georgians know that! But it's absolutely true.

If I had been a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Regis had asked me "The first woman senator of the United States was from which state?," I would have expected my four answer choices to include a) California b) A couple of New England states, maybe Massachusetts or Vermont and then c) A wild card choice, like the District of Columbia or North Dakota. If I'd seen Georgia as one of the choices, I'd have dismissed it immediately...and I'd have lost $32,000 in the process.

The new book from Macon, Georgia, author A. Louise Staman is a biography of the first U.S. woman senator.

Loosening Corsets: The Heroic Life of Georgia's Feisty Mrs. Felton, First Woman Senator of the United States (Tiger Iron Press, 2006) tells the story of Rebecca Latimer Felton who was born in 1835 and died in 1930, and became the first woman U.S. senator at the age of 87.

Mrs. Felton was a woman before her time and led a full and extraordinary life. As the book's website proclaims:
Although the book is nonfiction, the life of Rebecca Latimer Felton reads like a novel, revealing the nearly forgotten story of one of the most remarkable woman in history. A Georgian born before the Civil War, Felton became the first woman Senator of the United States in 1922, at age 87. A tireless crusader, her attempts at political and civil reform are set against the backdrop of a state in violent chaos. Sherman’s matches, Reconstruction’s graft, one-party corruption, the KKK, lynchers, hallelujah evangelicals, chain-gang convicts, the sneering H.L. Mencken, “unsexed” suffragists, WCTU crusaders, and something possibly worse than anything else – a tiny insect called the boll weevil – all strut or crawl or sweep across the pages of this work.
Staman's authoritative biography, which took four years to research and write, has garnered several prestigious awards. It took first runner-up prize in the Reference category of the 2007 Eric Hoffer Award (for short prose and independent books); it also won the Southeast region non-fiction category of the 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards; and it was also a nominee in the History division of this year's Georgia Author of the Year Awards.

Loosening Corsets is an important book; it focuses on someone who played a significant role in Georgia history but has been largely overlooked because of her sex. Louise Staman has done us all a great service by setting down Rebecca Latimer Felton's story so that it will no longer be overlooked. As Staman notes on her website (
Four years ago I was working in the archives of the University of Georgia when I found an old picture of an ancient woman, dressed to the nines, staring straight at me – almost as if to say, “I dare you to discover my story.” All I had was a name, Rebecca Latimer Felton. What I discovered was one of the most remarkable women in American history, and a story so turbulent and filled with drama, it seemed like fiction. The result is a book: "Loosening Corsets: The Heroic Life of Georgia’s Feisty Mrs. Felton, First Woman Senator of the United States." I hope to make the story of this nearly forgotten woman known once again, along with all that she did in her beloved state of Georgia.
Incidentally, as I was looking through the many books on the shelves in my office today, I came across an earlier publication by A. Louise Staman. I have a small library in my office because I like to hold on to books that come in from publishers about Georgia or by Georgia authors in case I should ever need them in the future. I like to think of my office space as a sort of reference library for Georgia literature. My colleagues think of it as a mess!

In 2002, Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin's Press, brought out With the Stroke of a Pen, a literary true crime book with the subtitle A Story of Ambition, Greed, Infidelity, and the Murder of French Publisher Robert DeNoël. On the night of December 2, 1945, the famous publisher, and three lawyers met together on a deserted Paris street corner. That meeting went very well for the lawyers. But the publisher received a bullet in the back.

Here's how the jacket describes the book:
Using sensitive documents recently unsealed by the French government, Staman explores the life of Robert DeNoël from his dramatic rise in publishing to his mysterious murder in 1945. A man of contradictions, DeNoël published the works of anti-Semitics alongside the works of Jews and Marxists. In fact, during the same month that he went on trial for Nazi collaboration, he won the most prestigious prize in French literature, the Prix Goncourt, for his publication of a work by Elsa Triolet, a Russian Jew and an ardent supporter of the Nazi Resistance movement. How DeNoël's company was acquired after his death by his nemesis, Gaston Gallimard, involves a riveting tale of crime, murder, betrayal, and cover-up not often found even in fiction. Set against the colorful backdrop of Paris from the roaring 20s through the turbulent Nazi occupation years in the 30s to the post-war investigation, this is a riveting story of a fascinating man.
With the Stroke of a Pen was Louise Staman's first book. As with Loosening Corsets, she rescues a significant person from the tomb of oblivion and reveals to the world a glimpse of greatness that ought not go unnoticed.

I hope Louise Staman's books will not go unnoticed.

[Please email your comments or questions about this blog entry to me at I hope to hear from you.]