Reading: Wild Girls: How the Outdoors Shaped the Women Who Challenged a Nation

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As the semester winds toward the holiday season more time for reading opens up and I love finding new books to read – both fiction and non. My Thanksgiving read this week was Wild Girls: How the Outdoors Shaped the Women Who Challenged a Nation by Harvard professor Tiya Miles.

In this short book, she traces the way playing in the outdoors shaped the lives of several American activist women from Harriet Tubman to Louisa May Alcott to Native American writer Zitkála-ŠáNative/Gertrude Bonnin to Dolores Huerta. It added female names to my list of women to be remembered and reminded to get outside this holiday season and play in the dirt.

From the publisher…

Named a Best Nonfiction Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly

An award-winning historian shows how girls who found self-understanding in the natural world became women who changed America.

Harriet Tubman, forced to labor outdoors on a Maryland plantation, learned from the land a terrain for escape. Louisa May Alcott ran wild, eluding gendered expectations in New England. The Indigenous women’s basketball team from Fort Shaw, Montana, recaptured a sense of pride in physical prowess as they trounced the white teams of the 1904 World’s Fair. Celebrating women like these who acted on their confidence outdoors, Wild Girls brings new context to misunderstood icons like Sacagawea and Pocahontas, and to underappreciated figures like Native American activist writer Zitkála-Šá, also known as Gertrude Bonnin, farmworkers’ champion Dolores Huerta, and labor and Civil Rights organizer Grace Lee Boggs.

This beautiful, meditative work of history puts girls of all races—and the landscapes they loved—at center stage and reveals the impact of the outdoors on women’s independence, resourcefulness, and vision. For these trailblazing women of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, navigating the woods, following the stars, playing sports, and taking to the streets in peaceful protest were not only joyful pursuits, but also techniques to resist assimilation, racism, and sexism. Lyrically written and full of archival discoveries, Wild Girls evokes landscapes as richly as the girls who roamed in them—and argues for equal access to outdoor spaces for young women of every race and class today.


Tiya Miles is the Michael Garvey Professor of History at Harvard University, the author of five prize-winning works on the history of slavery and early American race relations, and a 2011 MacArthur Fellowship recipient. She was the founder and director of the Michigan-based ECO Girls program, and she is the author of the National Book Award–winning, New York Times best-selling All That She Carried. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Emma Thompson on Adapting “Sense and Sensibility”

Emma Thompson on Adapting

On one of my strolls through YouTube, I went down the rabbit hole of wonderful interviews with screenwriter Emma Thompson and landed on this “Making of” Sense and Sensibility.

While it is fun to hear about the casting and the costuming, the best part (naturally) is near the end.

In “Adapting Austen” they discuss choosing the (at that time) relatively unknown-in-the-States Emma Thompson to adapt the novel and then the segment goes over her process in writing the film.

Producer Lindsay Doran had seen some of Thompson’s UK sketch comedy show (then airing on PBS) and knew her favorite novel would need a writer who understood that Austen was funny in her comments about the societal rules she and her sisters were forced to abide.

No surprise Thompson asked for adaptation advice from Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who had adapted Howard’s End, the film Thompson was then acting in (and which would lead to her 1993 Oscar for Best Actress.

Creative women helping other creative women for the win!

RMW Rosanne Signature for Web

Why Emma Thompson’s Writing Stands Out by Dr. Rosanne Welch

Why Emma Thompson’s Writing Stands Out by Dr. Rosanne Welch

In doing some research on YouTube I stumbled onto the speech Hugh Laurie gave in celebration of Emma Thompson receiving her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. What struck me is that at 2:52, after joking a bit about having known each other since they were in their late teens in college together, Hugh gets to the meat of why Emma Thompson deserves the star. It’s for her WRITING.

Yes, her first Oscar came for Best Actress in Howard’s End, which is where Americans first heard of her. BUT her second Oscar came from adapting a Jane Austen novel into one of my favorite films – Sense and Sensibility (and she cast Hugh in a small part!). She then went on to write several other films (including Wit, the 2 Nanny McPhee movies, and Bridget Jones’s Baby) though many still don’t realize she is a writer.

In this clip, he explains what makes her writing so powerful…a good lesson to us all.






Once again I’ve had to email a film screening program about the blurb they posted about an upcoming screening and Q&A with the creators of a new film. Here’s the post I read:

When single father Max (John Cho) discovers he has a terminal disease, he decides to try and cram all the years of love and support he will miss with his teenage daughter Wally (Mia Isaac) into the time he has left with her. With the promise of long-awaited driving lessons, he convinces Wally to accompany him on a road trip from California to New Orleans for his 20th college reunion, where he secretly hopes to reunite her with her mother who left them long ago. A wholly original, emotional and surprising journey, Don’t Make Me Go explores the unbreakable, eternal bond between a father and daughter from both sides of the generational divide with heart and humor along for the ride. From Amazon Studios, #DontMakeMeGo will begin streaming July 15 globally only on Prime Video.

Why We Love It: Don’t Make Me Go is an emotional and beautiful exploration of the struggle between chasing your dreams or settling on the safe choices. Mia Isaac and John Cho’s chemistry is captivating in this one of a kind father-daughter road trip film. Bring tissues.

Here’s the email I had to send to the programmer:

I saw your announcement and wondered if Don’t Make Me Go is “A wholly original, emotional and surprising journey, Don’t Make Me Go explores the unbreakable, eternal bond between a father and daughter from both sides of the generational divide with heart and humor along for the ride” then WHY wasn’t the writer, Vera Herbert, invited to this live discussion? Or even mentioned in your post, which makes the reader assume that the director is a writer-director, giving them all the credit for what sounds like a film based on characters, situation, theme, and dialogue – none of which are under the auspices of a director.

As the Executive Director of an MFA in TV and Screenwriting, I subscribe to all your posts to see what events I might want to bring my MFA candidates to – but I only attend events that include writers. It’s an insult to not even name the writer. The auteur theory was invented years ago by French film reviewers who found it simpler to list directors since many were writer-directors and sometimes a film is written by 2 people which was unwieldy in a review. That’s why it exists and it’s a shame for film experts/programmers/educators to continue that practice. More women have written films than directed them (the Joan Harrison/Hitchcock team is an example) so it was another way to erase the creative work of women when we only mention directors. I would say “Please stop” but I’m tired of saying “Please”.

Dr. Rosanne Welch

Women’s Stories Matter – and Earn Awards

Women’s Stories Matter – and Earn Awards

Sian Heder reminded us how hard it is to be both a writer/artist AND a Mom – but we do it anyway — So do it anyway.

AND she won 2 major awards for a film about a young woman chasing a dream. That has happened only 3 other times in Oscar history (for Gigi, West Side Story, My Fair Lady – all musicals). Don’t let them tell you female stories aren’t powerful enough to earn awards – or audiences.

Women’s Stories Matter – and Earn Awards

A TED Talk Worth Watching – “Saving the World Vs Kissing the Girl” by Lindsay Doran

I am quite a fan of TED Talks – for their content and the spiffy way they illustrate a talk should go in a quick 20 minutes or so.  I often show students one of my favorites – Chimamanda Adiche’s “The Danger of a Single Story” and show my friend, Art Benjamin’s TED Talks in some of my humanities courses.  I was deeply pleased to be asked to give my own TED Talk, “A Female Voice In The Room”,  when CalPolyPomona hosted their own TED@CPP event a few years ago.  So when I find a new one worth sharing – I share it. 

The latest TED Talk to catch my attention was given by film producer Lindsay Doran in 2012.  “Saving the World Vs Kissing the Girl” is a fascinating look at how ‘action’ movies end on the announcement of the success to someone the protagonist is in a relationship with, making the culmination of the relationship more important than the ‘saving the world’ part. 

For instance, at the end of Rocky he doesn’t say “Yo, Adrian, I won” because he doesn’t win the fight.  He only survived it. The movie ends with Rocky and Adrian struggling to get to each other in the crowd. When they reach each other, they clutch each other saying, “I love you” over and over again. THAT’s the win.

A TED Talk Worth Watching -  “Saving the World Vs Kissing the Girl” by Lindsay Doran

Using Dirty Dancing, Karate Kid, and The King’s Speech she explains how positive relationships are more important than positive accomplishments in films.  They always end with the healing of a primary relationship. Heroes who don’t win their fight (Rocky in Rocky, George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life, Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird) are so inspirational because they win their relationships. 

Then she says that women don’t need to learn that relationships are more important than accomplishments in life – men do.  So perhaps these action films are women’s way of teaching that lesson that no man is a failure who has friends.

I LOVE that idea!

Mike Flannagan and “Midnight Mass”: 11 years in the making

Midnight mass

If you haven’t seen this short 3 minute ‘featurette’ where Mike Flannagan explains the impetus for writing the show “Midnight Mass”, it’s worth your time. 

Most importantly, he discusses how he started writing the script in 2010 (so it took 11 years to become what it became); that he thought it would be a movie first until he realized how deep the story should be; and that it came from a scary “what if” question he had in his own life. 

This short conversation is a great look into the mind of a writer (even if you haven’t watched the show and might not even intend to because horror scares you….the lessons are all still evident in this conversation).

On The Writers of Casablanca

On The Writers of Casablanca

While it is fun to look back at this review of Casablanca from when it was released – before anyone knew it would become the classic it is and be voted one of the greatest screenplays of all times – it’s also a reminder of my pet peeve. The reviewer never once names the screenwriters – twins Julius Epstein and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch – in the whole review.

On The Writers of Casablanca

Howard koch

He mentions the producer and the director in the first paragraph. Yet he writes: “through these people, the story of Casablanca is told with expert intensity.” And about the love story, he says: “the triangle is intelligently developed.” And in praise of the director, he notes “the wealth of contributing material that was placed at his disposal” without ever acknowledging the writers who did all of that.

As a final coup de grace he names each of the heads of departments and their “long list of technical achievements”… but never once mentions the writers who envisioned it all – Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch. So I am mentioning them many times in this rant. Jacob and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch created the Casablanca we still watch, love, and teach 80 years after it was written by Jacob and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch.

Read ‘Casablanca’: THR’s 1942 Review from the Hollywood Reporter

William Blinn, Brian’s Song, Purple Rain, and Screenwriting

William Blinn, Screenwriting, Brian's Song, and Purple Rain

Sometimes I love the way the internet lets you drill down layer after layer of research when you only had one small question – but you learn things you forgot you wanted to know.  When I saw a question on Quora’s Ask a Screenwriter forum about the best “Based on a True Story” films the one that came immediately to mind was Brian’s Song so first I found the trailer:

Naturally then, I wanted to know who wrote it, which brought me to the film’s Wikipedia page, which brought me to William Blinn’s Wikipedia page

There I came to find that not only did he win an Emmy for writing that TV film but also one for writing on the original Roots.  Here he receives the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television for “a WGA guild member who has advanced the literature of television and made outstanding contributions to the profession of the television writer.”

His advice to young writers is to “get off you’re a** and do the work” and to “Tell the truth in an interesting way.”

(If you listen to nothing else in this blog post – listen to that speech!).

Blinn was nominated 3 times for episodes of Fame. And he won Humanitas and Peabody Awards along the way.   Blinn also produced Starsky and Hutch (both the TV show and the 2004 movie!). Finally, he co-wrote Purple Rain

THAT is a career –  and you probably have never heard of him. 

Finally, I came to remember how much I had resisted watching “a football movie”  but I kept hearing how much other people loved it so when it re-ran on the 11:30pm film one night I snuck out of bed in the childhood home I shared with my grandparents and watched the film – finding myself sobbing as it ended.  I had never seen a film about such a strong male friendship – and I have rarely seen on as strong since.

Yay for the internet – and Yay for William Blinn.

“Let us simply celebrate good television” and Bridgerton [Opinion]

“Let us simply celebrate good television” and Bridgerton [Opinion] by Dr. Rosanne Welch

Leave it to NPR to get it right, which is why I’m posting this piece they did on Bridgerton (Netflix), the new show executive produced by Shonda Rhimes and created for television by Chris Van Dusen from the romance book series by Julia Quinn.

See ‘Bridgerton’ Is A Delicious, Raunchy Tale Of One Very Hot Family

Far beyond explaining the show’s popularity, this article interested me because it understood instantly that what works best and most binge-ably about this show is that

“Let us simply celebrate good television, made by a shop run by a woman who loves good television and written by people who are experienced in television.”

Bridgerton and

In fact, I found one of the cleanest, clearest descriptions of the difference between movie screenplays and television screenplays while listening to this.

“Writing television requires writing to the rhythm of the episode, not just the season. An episode must have its own shape, its own rise and fall… Obviously, in a serialized story, one episode will not be complete on its own when it comes to plot, but it should work on its own structurally. It should have a beginning, middle, and end.”

You could spend a whole semester in a writing class and not yet be able to define it so cleanly – or create a piece that demonstrates having digested that delightfully delectable tidbit. 

I also appreciated the note about how we may think streaming services invented binge-watching but

“Remember, binge-watching really came of age with DVDs, which didn’t have the Netflixian boosts of the auto-play and the credits-skipping and the part where they almost bodily shove you from one episode to the next episode. If you watched 10 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy on DVD, it was because you affirmatively said yes, over and over.”

I would go so far as to say TV in general invented that because before streaming it had to make characters and stories so compelling you would remember to be in front of the TV set at the same time every week in order to keep up.

That’s quite a lot of television writing (and history) information to glean out of one short public radio piece. Kudos to NPR pop culture correspondent Linda Holmes. And because we learn so much from any writer’s origin story – don’t miss her story at the end of the online post:

“She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living-room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.

Holmes was a writer and editor at Television Without Pity, where she recapped several hundred hours of programming — including both High School Musical movies, for which she did not receive hazard pay. Her first novel, Evvie Drake Starts Over, will be published in the summer of 2019.”

Rosanne Welch serves as Executive Director of the Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting. Television credits include Beverly Hills 90210, Picket Fences, Nightline and Touched by an Angel. Award-winning publications include When Women Wrote Hollywood, runner up for the Susan Koppelman Award for best edited book in feminist studies and Women in American History, named Outstanding Reference Source and added to the list of 2017’s Best Historical Materials, by the ALA.