Far below is a general history of my career which, re-reading, seems like  brag sheet; but there it is.

This past year I’ve been struggling to find another subject–since writers must write, right? I’d settled on Waylon Jennings, not an obvious topic for me, but I’ve loved his voice since I found a Best of Waylon Jennings tape at a small flea market in Lake Tomahawk in the north woods. That was about 1990, I guess. Couldn’t believe the depth, range, anguish and humor of that dark, melodious baritone. And I’ve never particularly liked country, except for Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. Over the years I’ve collected Waylon CDs. Finally, in January 2013, I proposed that I do his biography to my agent. My agent had never heard of Waylon. “Obviously I can’t be the agent for this book.” She did me the favor of asking another agent, who told her that a bio of Waylon wouldn’t sell mainly because he’d done a tell-all memoir not that long ago. I’ve ordered that book from Amazon.com (shame on me). Anyway, hopes of a Waylon biography dies fast. That leaves me with the memoir I’ve been writing. Absolute hell to write about your own childhood, when you’ve been writing for 35 years about other people’s lives. And who will be interested? In 2011 my “autobiography” SUMMERS: A TRUE LOVE STORY was published by Xlibris. O shame, a vanity press publication. I didn’t care. These are letter between me and a man who chooses to be identified as Rob–and I think they tell a wonderful tale. Poignant, true (because they’re real letters) and universal: a boy and a girl trying to find themselves. Anyway: here’s the official:

In 1973 the University of Wisconsin Press published my first book, CHARLOTTE BRONTE: STYLE IN THE NOVEL, a study of the great Victorian novelist’s compelling prose style. Feeling that I had more to say about Brontë from a feminist perspective, I continued work on the author. UNQUIET SOUL: A BIOGRAPHY OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE was published by Doubleday in 1975. It was, according to my now-famous editor Lisa Drew, the best reviewed Doubleday book of the year; and won the 1975 Friends of American Writers Best Work of Prose Award.
Meanwhile, having earned a PHD in Victorian Literature and linguistics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I taught English, linguistics and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Put off by the often-impenetrable jargon forced upon scholarly writers, I returned to biography and my longtime love, the theater. BERNARD SHAW AND THE ACTRESSES (Doubleday 1980) and MRS. PAT: THE LIFE OF MRS. PATRICK CAMPBELL (Knopf 1984) both won the George Freedley Award for Best Drama Book and Banta Award for contributing significantly to the history of ideas.
Pursuing my passion for the theater, but returning stateside from across the Pond, I undertook the major job of telling the story of the legendary  acting families, the Drews and the Barrymores. THE HOUSE OF BARRYMORE (Knopf,  1990) won the English Speaking Union’s Ambassador Book Award for best interpreting American culture to other English-speaking countries.
I’ve been lucky to receive Guggenheim, Rockefeller, American Council of Learned Societies, and Wisconsin Institute for Research in the Humanities fellowships. I held the post of Kathe Tappe Vernon professor of biography at Dartmouth College in 1978, lectured at Harvard University, spoke at international biographical conferences, and have been a frequent guest speaker at Shaw Festival seminars in Canada and the United States. She is also the author of numerous essays and reviews about theater, the Brontës, biography, and women’s issues.
Like many scholars, I had a novel in my drawer–as well as a play. My thriller WILD JUSTICE (under the name Margret Pierce because my agent thought it would ruin my reputation) was published in 1995 by St. Martin’s Press in hard and paperback (MOST WANTED), and my play PERSUASIONS, written about her old pals Bernard Shaw, Henry Irving and Ellen Terry, has been given dramatic readings in New York, Milwaukee, and London. My poetry has been published in numerous journals.
May Sarton–American novelist, poet, lesbian, and the author of widely-read journals like JOURNAL OF A SOLITUDE, PLANT DREAMING DEEP, and THE HOUSE BY THE SEA– was a decided departure as a biographical subject for me, chiefly because Sarton was living.  Between 1991 and 1995, I flew four times a year to York, Maine, to spend days interviewing Sarton on tape. My book MAY SARTON: A BIOGRAPHY, published in 1997 by Knopf, won the Triangle Publishing Group Judy Gran Award for the best book published that year about a gay/lesbian. It also earned me hate mail from Sarton fans who thought my biography trashed her. To them I say: I wrote what May told me about herself and what others told me about May.
After five very difficult yet rewarding years with Sarton, who died before the biography was published, I returned to the theater to write the lives of the great actors Wisconsin-born Alfred Lunt and his British wife Lynn Fontanne. DESIGN FOR LIVING: ALFRED LUNT AND LYNN FONTANNE  (Knopf 2003) was sheer joy to write, the biography coinciding with the restoration of the Lunts’ Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, estate Ten Chimneys, spearheaded by the visionary late Joe Garton.
Besides afore-mentioned awards, I’ve  received five Wisconsin Library Association awards for “Outstanding Achievement by a Wisconsin Author” and am an inductee into the Milwaukee Library’s Wall of Fame. This thrills me because my name is right up there  beside that of the great Wisconsin poet Lorine Niedecker. My’s seventh biography, LORINE NIEDECKER: A POET’S LIFE, was published in Fall 2011 by University of Wisconsin Press. Since then I’ve given  20 talks about Lorine to various Wisconsin groups. My privilege.
I’m the mother of Marc and Claire Peters. I live in Lake Mills with my husband Peter Jordan, Katie the collie, and our Persian cats, Plumchin and Sweetie Pie. I’m a passionate bridge player, gardener, jigsaw puzzle worker, movie goer, collector of antique Halloween, and almost know how to operate my digital camera and wordpress site.

Published on January 7, 2011 at 10:54 pm  Comments (36)  

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  1. Dear Ms. Peters, I’ love to read your play! Is it available anywhere for purchase? thanks B.

  2. Between 1991 and 1995, Margot flew four times a year to York, Maine, to spend days interviewing Sarton on tape. Her book MAY SARTON: A BIOGRAPHY,

    1995-1991 TYPO?

  3. Hello B: Thanks for your interest. I can print our and mail you a copy of Persuasions for $10. Let me know if this will do. Margot

  4. Always, in May Sarton’s novels and journals, I sensed a wrong note, that the author was not quite as she described herself. Your biography, “warts and all” has clarified this feeling.
    Her life brings new meaning to the phrase, “It’s all about me.”

    Still…this author touched many lives and I regret that she never found the Peace she so desperately sought.

    I shall now seek your biography of Charlotte Bronte.

    • I just finished May Sarton by Margot Peters and found it like something out of the National Enquirer —bitchy, and very :mean girl” ish—an utter contempt for her subject( describing her false teeth falling out of her mouth on her death bed. ” nice touch, margot!” –Ms. Peters ,I beleive, could never forgive May for not having the academic pedigree. Ms. Peters, May trusted you and you stabbed her in the back. SO WHAT if she flew into a rage at times–if this was a man you were wrting about–his rage would be part of the colorful charcter. Ms. Peters, after reading your snarky comments about May’s lovers and partners, I think you are one of the most vicious homophobes( because you have the power to destroy with words) and you hate women. Get some therapy. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

      • Hello, Jim: I think you need a brief history of my May Sarton biography. I taught her journals in my university Women’s Studies class “Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives” for many years. I admired her so much that I asked if she would accept me as a biographer. The biography was the result of 5 years of research during which I flew to Maine 4 times a year and spent days tape recording and talking to May. For five years I dealt with her rages, scorn, demands, insults and tears. (There were some good times, or I would have quit.) The biography is what she told me about herself. She also gave me a long list of friends who she urged me to interview. I did. I can’t remember one who had not been deeply wounded by May and did not describe that wounding at length. How could I have written about her other than I did? I believe I treated her fairly. And did you know that MAY SARTON: A BIOGRAPHY won the 1997 Triangle Book’s national Judy Gran Award for the best book about a gay/lesbian? Sincerely, Margot Peters

  5. Congratulations on a successful NPR interview. The book on Lorine Niedecker sounds fascinating. I look forward to picking it up on Amazon when it’s released.

  6. Hello Margot:
    Today our League (Ozaukee County) planned for a visit from you in spring to address our group. Donna will be contacting you.

    However, what I also found interesting, was you live in Lake Mills and that was my home town. I grew up there and visit occassionally now that my parents are gone. How long have you lived in Lake Mills?

    I’m also struck by small world as your Lorine book takes place in Fort Atkinson, Blackhawk Island and lots of reserach at the Hoard Museum. All of these are of interest as I’m familiar with all of them. My dad and his relatives are from Fort Atkinson. His name was Palmer Daugs.

    So, thought I would touch base, congratulate you on your successes and tell you I am looking forward to meeting you in spring.

    All my best,
    Barbara Daugs Hunt

  7. Your biography of Lorine Niedecker beautifully tells the story of a pure and simple life dedicated to literature. Without big city connections or academic credentials Lorine quietly became one of the best poets of her time. She lived a hard, frugal life in rural Wisconsin, never wanting public attention, in fact keeping her poetry a secret from her neighbors. Her only reward came in the mailbox, as her poems appeared in literary journals and finally books. Reading this compelling biography of a courageous literary figure is a wonderful experience.

    • Thank you so much for writing, Jerry. It was a spiritual journey for me to write the biography of Lorine, who has been my favorite poet since I first read The Granite Pail in 1986. I treasure your words about the book. kindest regards, Margot

  8. Do you remember Tony & Josephine James living in Harrold, Beds — but you met them in Salisbury?

    Tony would like to make contact. email me if this is possible. (I am the partner of his sister Pam James, btw, and was just speaking to him on the phone about you and your book Mrs Pat.)

  9. Dear Ms. Peters:

    I’m writing from the Knopf Rights Department about a rights matter on HOUSE OF BARRYMORE and have been unable to reach you at the email and phone number provided by our editorial department. Would you kindly send me an email at cedmunds (at) randomhouse (dot) com or call me at 212-572-2042?
    Many thanks,
    Caroline Edmunds
    Assistant Manager Knopf Doubleday Domestic Rights

  10. Hello Ms. Peters,

    I am thoroughly enjoying the Niedecker biography and find your writing style and chronicling accessible, as well as your confrontation of many of the poems that I would be left with a more obscure comprehension of (or none at all) otherwise. I have researched her as an undergraduate and am currently writing my graduate thesis on her, so I appreciate your in depth work (I was unaware of the number of conversations between relations after her death). I also look forward to reading some of your other works when I am finished. Were you recently on talk radio? If so, could you post the link? Thank you! Katie R.

    • Hello, Katie: Thank you so much for your good comments on my biography of Lorine Niedecker. It was a joy to write. very best, Margot

  11. We would like to thank you just as before for the wonderful ideas you gave Jesse when preparing her post-graduate research plus, most importantly, for providing all the ideas in a single blog post. In case we had known of your web-site a year ago, we’d have been rescued from the nonessential measures we were choosing. Thanks to you.

  12. Dear Margot-

    I believe we corresponded once years ago; I’m an actor, and an admirer of the Barrymores’ work.

    I’m now writing a history of Dickens’ CHRISTMAS CAROL as radio drama, and wanted to ask you a question about a written comment of yours on that subject.

    Please drop me an e-line.

    -Craig Wichman

    • Hello, Craig: Yes, I remember our correspondence. Your history of Dickens’ Christmas Carol as radio drama sounds absolutely fascinating. I’ll email you very soon on this. cheers, Margot

      • Margot-

        I just spent a few days in AOHell, and lost some email. In case yours was among those, please resend?


  13. I really enjoyed reading the biography of May Sarton, however as a psychologist I could not help seeing the classic behavior of a person with an Axis 2 diagnosis. Specifically, Cluster B personality disorders, with the emphasis on Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It is easy to check out in the DSM – 4, she really fits the profile. They are tough to treat and rarely improve significantly. They are not happy people, and given my histroy of having them in treatment, I frankly lost interest in reading her books.

  14. Also I must respond to Jim because I did not get a hint of homophobia, I am a lesbian approaching the age of 70. This woman was emotionally ill and it had nothing to do with her sexual orientation. Personality disorders show up in all kinds of people, it has nothing to do with intelligence or sexual orientation. And while I do have compassion for them, they are very difficult to relate to and frequently “bite the hand that feeds them.”

    • JoAnn: I’m very glad you wrote me about this–and relieved to have my diagnosis (I am NOT a psychiatrist) confirmed and expanded on. On pages 442-43 in the notes, I describe May as a BPD. I wanted to put this in the text itself because to me it explains so much about her behavior, but my editor insisted on hiding it in the end notes. I must look up Axis 2 diagnosis. May saw psychiatrists often and none of them could really help her. Yes, “biting the hand that feeds you”–that was May. In the end, discovering her BPD led to me admire what she did accomplish against great odds. It haunts me that in one of the later journals she says, “I should have been smothered at birth”–or words to that effect. As you say, she was not a happy person.

  15. Dear Ms Peters,
    I am hoping to apply for permission to quote May Sarton (her very insightful reflections on Elizabeth Bowen) and wondered if you’d be able to direct me to her estate holder. I haven’t yet read your biography but look forward to doing so – it sounds fascinating.
    best wishes,
    Lara Feigel

    • Hello, Lara: May Sarton herself gave me permission to quote from her published and unpublished writing. Professor Carolyn Heilbrun was her literary executor; she is dead. I know of no other executor, but to be safe you should check with the curator of the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library. all best, Margot Peters

  16. Ms. Peters,

    I have been doing some research on Lorine Niedecker, and came across your wonderful biography (I’m in an English MA program currently). Of special interest to me is her longish poem THOMAS JEFFERSON. Do you know what her sources were for the Jefferson quotes in the piece? Was the poem assembled entirely from them?

    Thanks, and best wishes!


    • Hello, Will: Maybe I’ve already answered you. I’ve been away from my site a long time. Lorine read at least 6 books about Jefferson, some of which are in her personal library. And she wrote 5 poems about Jefferson, who obviously fascinated her. I’ve not traced specific quotes to specific books–an interesting exploration that I might undertake some day. To see a list of books in LN’s own library, go her website: http://www.lorineniedecker.org all good wishes, Margot

      • dearest—–were you aware that you sent me this eeeeeeeeeee? How was your up north visit? be warm and safe!!!!!!!! oooooooooooooox, barbara

        On Thu, Feb 21, 2013 at 11:42 AM, margotpeters

  17. Hello Margot Peters,

    I’ve recently become fascinated by the life and work of Lorine Niedecker. Your book is perfect in so many ways. I have a question. When listing poets featured in Compass you include (a non-indexed) Weldon Kees along with Moore, Stevens, and Williams. I am devoted to all things Weldon and was so glad to see him make an appearance in your book. You must appreciate him as well, as there are better known poets you could have named instead. Was your intention to steer readers toward a poet you feel to be under-appreciated?

    best regards,
    Dan Nielsen

    • You are right.I named Weldon Kees deliberately because I admire his poetry, feel he’s a fine poet, in many ways in tune with Lorine, and wanted his name in my biography. Welcome to the world of fascination with all things Lorine Niedecker. You must come and spend a day on an escorted tour of Blackhawk Island and Fort. Love hearing from you, thanks. very best, Margot

  18. Margot,

    I just read may sarton. I am a non-fiction MFA student and understand you have written about women writing biography…I can’t seem to access them..where are they? Thank you

    • Hello. Trying to think of what I’ve written about women writing biography! (Guess I’ve written too darn much.) I wrote an article “Biographies of Women” that was published in BIOGRAPHY, volume 2, no. 3, Summer 1979. There’s an article about me, “Biographies, She Wrote,” in WRITER’S DIGEST, March 1994. I’ve quite a bit about biography itself, but not that I can recall about women writing biography. What do you think of May? very best, Margot

      • Thanks for your help…I will try to track these down. I am writing a research paper on the relationship between female biographers and the stories they tell (both in selection of subject and putting themselves right into the story, using I or personal experience). Lots of biographers write around it but not many address it. Then again, I may “just” write a biography instead 🙂

        As for May Sarton, I have really enjoyed it. It has been several years since I read her works but now I want to go back and reread her…thanks again. shannon

  19. I am planning a trip to Blackhawk this summer. I’m a mere 70 miles away in Racine. My friend Kathleen Rooney sparked my renewed enthusiasm for Lorine Niedecker by suggesting I set “What Horror to Awake at Night” to music. That led me to your LORINE NIEDECKER: A POET’S LIFE where I found the Weldon Kees mention. Kathleen’s book of poems, ROBINSON ALONE, based on the life of Weldon Kees, has just received the Eric Hoffer Award for Poetry. I think we should all go out for beers and a fish fry at Kohlman’s. Margot, Kathleen would like very much to send you a copy of her book if that is all right..

    • Please let me know when you’re coming to Blackhawk Island this summer. Ann Engelman and I can get you inside Lorine’s cabin. Kohlman’s isn’t open, but Lorine’s grandparents’ old Fountain House still stands, though much much changed, but we can get a beer. I’d be very pleased to have Kathleen Rooney’s book, ROBINSON ALONE. How wonderful it won the Eric Hoffer Award for Poetry. My address is 511 College Street, Lake Mills, WI 53551. Not incidentally, a few weeks ago, when I tried driving out to BI, the road was underwater and closed. Tell me more about your setting of “What Horror.” very best, Margot

  20. SO, I went in search of those two articles – biography is no more and neither my public nor university library has that issue and writer’s digest doesn’t have article reference…yikes.

  21. I finally found these articles and am still trying to distill how much of the biographer goes into the narrative. Either from POV or, more boldly, inserting herself right into the story. Any thoughts? Opinions? Are there other women biographers that you pay attention to? THANKS!

  22. Dear Ms Peters,

    I’m currently writing my postgraduate thesis on the works of Agatha Christie and I have come across mention of an article you wrote with Agate Krouse in 1986 titled; “Women and Crime: Sexism in Allingham, Sayers, and Christie”.

    It would be such a key piece of work for my research and I would love to pursue some of the arguments in it, but I cannot find it anywhere to subscribe to, or purchase.

    Are you able to tell me where I may find this article, or what collections it was published in?

    Thank you very much for your time.


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