The XX Factor

More Memories of Nan Robertson, Feminist Icon

Jessica , I, too, was touched by the death of Nan Roberston . I met her sometime in 1986 when I was a student at Columbia University J-school and she was a guest speaker in one of my classes. I remember thinking back then that she was a pistol, brimming as she was with energy and an uproarious sense of humor. And boy, was she blunt. It was four or five years after her harrowing experience with toxic shock syndrome and she recounted it for us in Technicolor detail, including telling us about passing out on the bathroom floor after loosing control of her bowels to violent diarrhea, if memory serves me. She wriggled those partially amputated fingers for us to see and bragged about learning to type with them. She spoke proudly of having won the Pulitzer Prize, and told us how she kept the citation on a small pedestal in her living room. She seemed to be the sort of gifted storyteller who could make you laugh and cry in one breath. She was about 60 years old back then, which seemed ancient to me, but I was awed by this older woman and remember thinking that I’d be happy if my future journalism career involved even a fraction of the adventures she’d experienced over the course of hers. Alas, it has not, but hopefully I still have enough time to try. Her example is a reminder that “lady journalists” can do serious work and still have fun living out loud.