Review published on October 24, 2017.
Lisa Congdon dedicates A Glorious Freedom to “all the late bloomers.” She herself didn’t take up drawing until age 31, and she didn’t publish her first book until she was 44. This new work is a celebration of women’s attainments after age 40: second careers, late-life changes of course, and heartening achievements. It’s a lively mixture of interviews, first-person essays, inspirational quotes, and profiles of famous figures like Vera Wang, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Grandma Moses. The layout is varied, too, with the content sometimes in text blocks and sometimes in two columns, and Congdon’s whimsical drawings dotted throughout.
Again and again, we hear from women who started pursuing their passions late because they didn’t know what they really wanted, didn’t believe in themselves, or thought they had to subordinate their desires to their family commitments. “It takes quite a long time to nourish whatever you want to do with your life,” ninety-five-year-old artist Ilona Royce Smithkin states. Often there is a misconception that art is not a proper career or that we should not seek to stand out. Many of Congdon’s subjects took up art/writing after a less fulfilling first career, or, like Cheryl Strayed, plugged away in relative obscurity before finding success in midlife.
Nowadays, many people will face two decades or more of life after retirement, so another focus here is on “creative aging,” and especially keeping active. We meet women who have taken up surfing, marathons or triathlons after 40, and even a judo master who attained the highest possible rank at age 98. “Life is not over until you have your last breath, and youth does not define you,” collage artist Della Wells encourages.
This beautifully produced book would make a perfect birthday or Christmas gift for any woman who’s feeling her age. It’s a valuable reminder that great things can be achieved at every stage of life and that, with the right attitude, we will only grow in confidence and courage over the years.
Rebecca Foster 4/4
A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives by Lisa Congdon
Chronicle Books 9781452156200 hbk Oct 2017
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