Scidmore Bio Available for Pre-Order

I’m not trained as a historian. But I’m mighty proud of the book I’ve just written for all the scholarship it provides. The first-ever biography of Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, it contains tons of new findings that will come as a great surprise to people who know her mostly as the woman behind Washington’s Japanese cherry trees.

 

The book is set for launch in March 2023 from Oxford University Press. Copies can be pre-ordered here from the publisher’s website.

Amazon and other distributors have also started offering the book on advance order. I’ve found it listed by bookshops in several European countries, a reflection of OUP’s prestige and international reach.

That broad marketing outreach is a great plus for the scope of Scidmore’s fascinating story. Her legacy includes authorship of travel books on Alaska, Japan, Java, China and India, as well as a little-known novel based on her reporting during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-5.

Her achievements a century ago continue to astound me. Born just before the Civil War, she became an eyewitness, as a prolific journalist for 40 years, to many notable U.S. and world events during one of the most dynamic periods of American history.

Starting out, I certainly never expected this book to take a decade to finish. But so it happened for a combination of reasons. Though a longtime nonfiction writer and editor, I had never written a book before, so I had to learn the basics. The genre of biography carries its own challenges in research and standards of accuracy and interpretation. Because so little was known and written about Scidmore, I had to track down a lot of primary sources to help me reconstruct her life story.

From the start, it was the biographical angle that intrigued me the most. The D.C. cherry tree origin story has been told often — though it’s gotten muddied over the years. But Scidmore’s life remained elusive despite her critical role.

I’ve been encouraged by the positive response of several reviewers in the academic community who reviewed the manuscript. Julia Kuehn, a professor of historical travel writing at the University of Hong Kong, was taken by parallels in my life and Scidmore’s, which I described in the introduction. “A wonderful connecting of two women writers’ stories more than a century apart,” she wrote.

Mighty pleasing. And a perceptive observation of the curiosity that fueled my obsession in writing the book after I stumbled onto Scidmore’s untold story years while working in Southeast Asia.

The lovely cherry tree image on the cover, by the way, comes from a photo I found at the National Archives in Washington.

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