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Sacred and Complex, Amy Bloom’s ‘White Houses’ Chronicles First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s Secret Affair

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One of the highlights of my year, thus far, was interviewing bestselling author, Amy Bloom about her new book, White Houses. Released in time for Valentine’s Day (February 13, Penguin Random House) with rave reviews from the likes of Joyce Carol OatesWhite Houses is a love story about a complex affair steeped in our history between a First Lady and a woman— a journalist— that spanned more than three decades.

Bloom’s novel is based on the real-life love affair between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena “Hick” Hickok. This story about to women in love is wrought with obvious challenges given the times— when same-sex relationships and extramarital affairs were taboo.  Add substantial class differences between the women and therein lies a story with uncompromising complexities that threaten to permeate this obvious connection at every turn. Despite their innate differences, Bloom presents Eleanor and Hick in a story that points not to the differences between, but to the real possibilities that abound when two people let go and let love steer the course of their lives.

But they were different— very different.

Where Eleanor was charismatic and a social butterfly championing the causes of the forgotten, Hick— who covered the abduction of the Lindbergh baby in 1932— was  more reserved, what we would now call a “homebody.” The affair was the most open secret of its time, even FDR turned a blind eye to this burgeoning romance as it gave him a pass to continue his own storied affairs with so little as a shrug from the wife.

The larger tale of this romance was not recognized publicly until much later in a series of letters Bloom used for research. Eleanor, in placing country above all else, remained married to the philandering POTUS and continued to grow her on-again, off-again romance with Hick away from the public eye.  She was devoted to FDR in marriage because it was for the good of the country, but her heart remained with Hick.  Although Hick had other lovers when she and Eleanor were forced to part, none moved her as much. No matter time and space says Hick, “We were the little girls we’d never been,” hoping that, like their love, what never was can endure.



Photo by Elena Seibert 2017

Author of two New York Times best-sellers and three collections of short stories, a children’s book and a ground-breaking collection of essays. She’s been a nominee for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, and numerous anthologies here and abroad. She has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, O Magazine and Vogue, among many other publications, and has won a National Magazine Award for Fiction. Her work has been translated into fifteen languages.

She has written many pilot scripts, for cable and network, and she created, wrote and ran the excellent, short-lived series State of Mind, starring Lili Taylor. She lives in Connecticut and is now Wesleyan University’s Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing.


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Aisha K. Staggers has been writing since middle school. She had her first major publication in her local newspaper's entertainment section while a sophomore in high school, a publication in another state paper followed. Aisha has been contributing to various paper, magazines and textbooks for over 15 years. In addition to her time as an instructor of social sciences in higher education, Aisha has served as a director of education and policy research centers, and on the staff of legislative commissions. Aisha previously served on the Executive Board of the CT Young Democrats Women's Caucus and has remained active in politics and public policy. She is an alumni of Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT and Fisk University in Nashville, TN where she earned Bachelor's and Master's Degrees, respectively, and completed the South Carolina Education Policy Fellowship Program in 2008. Currently, Aisha is Senior Editor for BookTrib, a division of the literary public relations firm, Meryl Moss Media. In addition to her own work, Aisha will be writing the liner notes for an upcoming Prince tribute album and contributing a chapter to a 2018 scholarly work on Prince and the Minneapolis Sound.

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