So I walked into Left Bank Books one afternoon, with no clue of what was about to happen. Actually, walking in was my first mistake. For creative folks, a good bookstore is a dark, knotted forest where new ideas lurk in the shadows, waiting to pounce. But I paid no heed because I thought I knew what I was doing. I had dropped by to pick up a Specific Book as research for a musical I’d been thinking of writing for some time. I found this Specific Book fairly quickly, and headed over to the counter to buy it when I got greedy. For Left Bank Books also has a basement. And in that basement are used books for really good prices. And I was just broke enough that I couldn’t resist going down to check if they had the Book used so I wouldn’t have to pay full cover price. Which was my second mistake. And yes, at this point it serves me right for being cheap. (What can I say? Writers gotta eat. Occasionally. When we’re not too distracted to remember to)
Turns out they did in fact have said Book used. But in hardcover as opposed to paperback, so the price difference was negligible. And that’s when I saw it. The Clearance Rack. Paperbacks, $1, hardcovers $2. At this point, I think we’ve established the lengths I will go to for inexpensive reading material, so yes, I went right over. Mistake number three.
Not much there at first glance. Mostly Self-Help, Cook Books, and a smattering of medical texts. But on the second shelf, there was one tall, stately hardcover. Its title mentioned the Seneca Falls Convention, something I remembered hearing the vague outlines of as the beginning of the Women’s Rights Movement, but didn’t know much about in depth. Even I can afford a book for two dollars, so it came home with me, along with its more expensive cousin.
I started reading it on the train ride home, and was immediately pulled into the lives of these incredible women I’d barely heard of (Elizabeth Cady Stanton) or didn’t know existed (Martha Coffin Wright, Lucretia Mott, Abby Kelly, the Grimke sisters). What they were up against, the courage it took to fight against it in an age where women just speaking to mixed-gender audiences was an incendiary act that incurred mob violence; it all struck me with a force that made me feel like I’d been hit by a train as opposed to just riding one. Why hadn’t I heard this whole story before? Why was it relegated to bookstore clearance racks instead of classrooms and bestseller lists?
I got off the train, and kept reading during my 20 minute walk home (really not as dangerous as it sounds when you get used to it). By the time I reached my apartment, I was writing a musical in my head, but not the one I had gone to Left Bank to purchase a research book for. A new idea had reached out and grabbed me, and wasn’t going to let go. So that’s the story of how I came to be writing a Riot Grrl punk opera about an organized movement birthed out of a Quaker tea party on a Sunday afternoon in 1848. Moral: be really, really careful when you walk into bookstores. Because you might be walking into an ambush.