Karenna Gore Schiff, daughter of former vice president Al Gore, discusses her professional shift from lawyer to author
What prompted you to write Lighting the Way?
I always wanted to be a writer.... I am very interested in words and language and the power of a term or phrase in framing an entire political debate. Both my parents wrote books and my grandfather wrote books, and it was a way to explore something in depth and produce something concrete.
Why choose relatively obscure women for your first project?
I've always loved delving into somewhat esoteric chapters of American history that may hold some lessons for today. Sometimes I get very agitated about the fact that the media is covering something a certain way or not covering something. Looking back and seeing how a lot of people worked very hard in the shadow of a mainstream society around them, going in the wrong direction, and they were still able to be consequential was inspiring. I also wanted to show that courage doesn't have to look like a huge military invasion—it can look like a woman teaching illiterate people to read in a small house in South Carolina, or sitting in a jail cell for standing up for free speech.
You said you had a much larger list of possible subject: how did you nar row your choice to seven?
It was such a personal choice, and in some ways I feel this book is a bit self-indulgent. I really just went with an instinct about who appealed to me. In some cases, I liked them because they were just funny. I thought Mother Jones was hilarious, and I thought Virginia Durr was funny. I listened to voices I found engaging.
You've said writing the book was therapeutic. How?
Looking at other people who felt alienated in their time and yet didn't disengage and give up was something that I found enriching in terms of how to approach today.
What's your next project?
I've thought about trying to write about these women for younger audiences, and I've also thought about following up on some of the other women I didn't write about—Abigail Dunaway, Ellen Swallow. They're not familiar names, but they have really interesting stories. The other person I'm really interested in is Davy Crockett.
Will you go back to practicing law?
I don't think I'll go back to practicing law, but I would like to be politically active. That's something that's my thread.