Central New York Reads One Book Presents its 2021 Book!
A work of historical fiction by Elizabeth Letts
by Elizabeth Letts
When two roads diverge in a yellow wood, which road does one choose? No choosing required! In Finding Dorothy, Elizabeth Letts explores the paths taken by two women separated by more than a generation and struggling to be heard in a world overshadowed by men. In this work of historical fiction, Letts opens a window into the life of Maud Gage, the daughter of suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage, leading us though her childhood in Fayetteville, N.Y. and subsequent courtship by and marriage to L. Frank Baum who penned The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
The novel begins, however, in 1938 Hollywood, when Maud, age 78 and a widow, storms the office of MGM’s Louis B. Mayer to convince him that he needs her input to make sure that the making of the film based on her late husband’s book stays true to Baum’s vision. When Mayer takes her to the set and she hears Judy Garland sing "Over the Rainbow,” she is taken by the longing in the teenager’s astounding voice, and a protective bond begins to form.
From this point, Letts moves back and forth, telling Maud’s difficult story as well as the story of Garland’s struggle with the powerful men who would take advantage of the young starlet. Finding Dorothy is in large part a love story. Frank and Maud were very devoted to each other and even though he would have been thought of as progressive for a man of his time, Maud often envied his freedom to dream and work while she cared for their children. She endured a hard life in Dakota Territory where they attempted for a time to begin life anew while facing financial ruin. And as hard as her mother fought for the right to vote for women, she never saw the results of her work. Women were not granted the right to vote until 1920, 22 years after Matilda Gage’s death.
Judy Garland endured immense pressure from her ferocious stage mother and the men who restricted her meals, introduced her to diet pills, and made unwanted advances. The longing for a better world that was so heartbreaking in her voice was an expression of her own troubled life. Watching Judy struggle, Maud witnessed that the times had not changed nearly enough from when she herself was a young girl. Getting over the rainbow might never happen and only when met with the persistent heat of resistance will some troubles melt away—like lemon drops.
"Now I know I've got a heart because it's breaking."
-- Tin Man
On March 4, Syracuse Stage, CNY Reads, and Elizabeth Letts came together for one hour on Zoom to talk about Finding Dorothy, the research behind the book, and the life of its author. It was part of a series that Syracuse Stage is doing called Syracuse Stories. The conversation was recorded and we invite you to watch:
If you want to know why I'm a writer, you'd have to thank Mrs. Barclay, the children's librarian in the Malaga Cove Library in Palos Verdes, California, and my mother. who has read more books than anyone else I know, and who carted me to the library from the time I could barely walk. From the day I sounded out my first board book (Ann Likes Red), read my first poem (Block City, by Robert Louis Stevenson) and was swept up in my first long chapter book, (Little House in the Big Woods) I've been a passionate reader and fascinated by the lives and personalities of my favorite authors. But I was a late bloomer. I spent my twenties and thirties working as a
nurse-midwife and raising four children. When I turned forty, I decided that I didn't want to be one of those people who thought she had a book in her but never gave it a try, and I sat down to write my first novel. Now, writing is my full-time pursuit. My passions are horses and all animals, my children, singing in a choir, and long road trips through the backroads of America. I care deeply about issues that affect women and children, and especially those who are fleeing danger. But my favorite hobby is still the one that Mrs. Barclay and my mom got me started on-- reading.
L. Frank Baum
Judy Garland and Maud Gage Baum
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