Claudia Keenan

American History/Memoir

Scholar of obscure American history and education.

Claudia Keenan is a historian of American education (PhD, New York University). She has taught at Emory, Henry College and the University of Virginia extension and has published on such varied topics as the image of the First Lady, the history of the suburban P.T.A., and the philosopher George S. Counts. Her scholarly interests include the history of New York City, progressive education and obscure Americans of historical and cultural interest whom she writes about in her blog, Through the Hourglass. Claudia grew up in Mt. Vernon, N.Y. where her first job was being a page in the public library. She has also worked for WNYC Public Radio. She currently resides in Connecticut with her husband.

Find out more about Claudia on her blog.

Read our review of Claudia’s latest book.

BOOKS:

Portrait of a Lighthouse School: Public Education in Bronxville, N.Y., 1920-1960 (1997) 

Waking Dreamers, Unexpected American Lives: 1880-1980 (2020)

Your biggest literary influences:

Edmund Morris, Donna Tartt, E.L. Doctorow

Last book read:

Bunny by Mona Awad

The book that changed you life:

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. By the time this biography appeared in 1979, I had long been fascinated by Roosevelt and his wife and therefore was perhaps predisposed to like it. Once I started reading, however, the extent to which the book was a departure from every other biography I’d ever read was startling. The writing is lyrical and evocative as Morris moves from stuffy Victorian-era Manhattan to a “winter of blue snow” in the Badlands to Roosevelt’s perch on Mount Marcy in the northern Adirondacks as the future president watches a messenger approach with a yellow telegram. This first volume of what would become a trilogy showed me that historical writing need not be stuffy and dry – indeed, it can be thrilling.

My favorite literary character:

Si Morley, the hero of Jack Finney’s 1970 novel Time and Again. A technical illustrator who leads a humdrum life, Si is chosen by the U.S. government to participate in a time travel experiment. At twilight he travels from a room in the Dakota apartment building to the winter of 1882, becomes embroiled in serious affairs of politics and the heart, and ultimately must make a life-changing decision.

Currently working on:

A book about Henry Collins Brown, founder of the Museum of the City of New York

Words to live by:

“It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?” – Vita Sackville West

Advice for aspiring authors:

I admire the thinking of the anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, who applauds “the creative potential of interrupted and conflicted lives, where energies are not narrowly focused or permanently pointed toward a single ambition.”