We're closing out Women's History Month with a stellar event! Don't miss this fascinating story told by award-winning author, Kim Todd.
We are still operating at a limited capacity for our in-person events so we recommend pre-registering on Eventbrite.
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In the waning years of the nineteenth century, female journalists across the United States risked reputation and safety to expose the hazardous conditions under which many Americans lived and worked. In various disguises, they stole into sewing factories to report on child labor, fainted in the streets to test public hospital treatment, posed as lobbyists to reveal corrupt politicians. Inventive writers whose in-depth narratives made headlines for weeks at a stretch, these “girl stunt reporters” changed laws, helped launch a labor movement, championed women’s rights, and redefined journalism for the modern age.
The 1880s and 1890s witnessed a revolution in journalism as publisher titans like Hearst and Pulitzer used weapons of innovation and scandal to battle it out for market share. As they sought new ways to draw readers in, they found their answer in young women flooding into cities to seek their fortunes. When Nellie Bly went undercover into Blackwell’s Insane Asylum for Women and emerged with a scathing indictment of what she found there, the resulting sensation created opportunity for a whole new wave of writers. In a time of few jobs and few rights for women, here was a path to lives of excitement and meaning.
After only a decade of headlines and fame, though, these trailblazers faced a vicious public backlash. Accused of practicing “yellow journalism,” their popularity waned until “stunt reporter” became a badge of shame. But their influence on the field of journalism would arc across a century, from the Progressive Era “muckraking” of the 1900s to the personal “New Journalism” of the 1960s and ’70s, to the “immersion journalism” and “creative nonfiction” of today. Bold and unconventional, these writers changed how people would tell stories forever.
“Sensational is cheekily dedicated to ‘the ink-stained Amazons’—an image that....evokes a league of Wonder Women slinging their lassos of truth….these women helped to invent modern investigative reporting—and shaped the trajectories of creative nonfiction and memoir, too…. [Todd] smartly dissects the allure of the girl-stunt genre, which ‘put a new female character in the headlines . . . not a victim of assault or murder—but a protagonist.’ For men, Todd claims, this character offered drama and the thrill of seeing power humiliated; for women, there was vicarious pleasure, a sense of vindication as the heroine fought institutions—judges, doctors, skeptical editors—and won.”-The New Yorker
“Todd’s resurrection of these courageous reporters is fascinating because the women and their stories are so vibrant. With acerbic wit, the author also makes a larger point....it was the male muckrakers who are credited as the progenitors of gritty, detailed narratives told in the first person. Ms. Todd makes a good case that more credit is due to those early 'girl stunt reporters.'" -Wall Street Journal
"An impressive work of nonfiction....a sensational adventure."-Literary Hub
Kim Todd is the award-winning author of four books of literary nonfiction. Her most recent, Sensational: The Hidden History of America's “Girl Stunt Reporters,” was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award and the Richard Frisbee Nonfiction Award. Other books include Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis, and Tinkering with Eden: A Natural History of Exotic Species in America. Her essays and articles have appeared Smithsonian, Salon, Sierra Magazine, Orion, and Best American Science and Nature Writing anthologies, among other publications. She is a member of the MFA faculty at the University of Minnesota and lives in Minneapolis with her family.
*Online registration closes one hour prior to the event. Spaces may be available at the door.