Award-winning and prolific local author Jane Kirkpatrick brings history to life. Lending her inspirational voice to historical women has earned her more than 25 published books, numerous awards, and countless devoted readers. In her new novel, One Glorious Ambition, Kirkpatrick focuses on an early champion of the mentally ill, and her efforts to ensure compassionate care for institutionalized men and women of the 19th century. The author will read from her work on Friday, April 18 in Redmond.
Source Weekly: Your historical novels must have required enormous amounts of research. Where did you start?
Jane Kirkpatrick: With the chaplain at the Trenton Hospital in New Jersey. He oversaw the small museum in honor of Dorothea Dix housed there. This hospital was one of the first she successfully acquired funding for, and they created an apartment for her there where she spent her last years. Dr. Dean Brooks, who helped develop the mental health museum in Salem, Oregon bugged me for four years to write the novel about her.
SW: You worked for more than 30 years in social work. How did this experience equip you to write about Dorothea Dix, and the particular challenges she faced as an advocate for the mentally ill?
JK: As a writer, I still think I'm working in mental health. Both are healing endeavors. I had firsthand knowledge of how the system Dorothea had hoped to build—to move the mentally ill out of jails and back rooms into treatment facilities—is still an unfinished task. The largest institutions today housing the mentally ill are prisons, where little treatment is going on. The way in which Dorothea devoted herself to this cause resonates with many people today seeking a purpose to consume them.
SW: You're well known as a writer who explores the lives of western women. What does being a western woman mean to you?
JK: Most people think of the western woman as someone who lives west of the Mississippi, but I tend to think it is a state of mind framed by the landscapes that are bigger than life here. Historically, western women faced death, often and because of the landscape and relationship demands. I often wondered where the women drew their strength from. I think all of my novels explore those four elements: landscape, relationship, spirituality and work. I think they speak to the nature of a western woman. We are a part of a unique landscape, we have relationships with the mountains and rivers and High Desert and rain and with each other. We find our strength and our spirituality is both challenged and expanded in these landscapes.
SW: What project are you working on next??
JK: My 21st novel and 26th book will be out September 2 called A Light in the Wilderness. It's based on the life of Letitia Carson, one of the first African-American women to cross the Oregon trail (1845), give birth along the way and later bring a law suit in a time of great turmoil.
Paulina Books, 422 SW 6th, Redmond.