I didn’t set out to become a writer. I went into publishing because I loved to read and didn’t have any better ideas. I had a weakness for the kind of jokes that make you cringe and guffaw at the same time, my boss kept telling me to write them down, and the collection turned into the best-selling paperback of 1982. I was a clue on “Jeopardy” (“Who is the author of Truly Tasteless Jokes?” Answer: “Blanche Knott.”), and as Blanche made publishing history by occupying four of the fifteen spots on the New York Times bestseller list. I regret having written the books, but I wrote them.
My first serious book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, was published by HarperCollins in 1997. Ms. magazine called it “rocket fuel for launching new lives,” and it landed me on Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum enemies list. It also got me invited to join the board of the nascent Council on Contemporary Families, a group of distinguished family scholars. I belonged to the Artist’s Network of Refuse & Resist group that originated the anti-Iraq-invasion slogan and performance pieces titled “Our Grief is Not a Cry for War.” As a contributing editor of IEEE Spectrum magazine, I went to Laos to cover a village getting internet access via a bicycle-powered computer. I was on staff at the American Museum of Natural History for 17 years, where I wrote about everything under the Sun, quitting in 2017 to become a full-time activist.
The catalyst for Cutting Loose was puzzlement: why was our notion of women’s lives after divorce (visualize depressed dame on barstool) so different from the happy and energized reality? A similar question gave rise to This Chair Rocks: why is our view of late life so unrelievedly grim when the lived reality is so different? I began blogging about aging and ageism in 2007 and started speaking on the subject in July, 2012, which is also when I started the Yo, Is This Ageist? blog.
During this time I’ve been recognized by the New York Times, National Public Radio, the New Yorker, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism and named as a Fellow by the Knight Foundation, the New York Times, Yale Law School, and the Royal Society for the Arts; I’ve written for Harper’s, the Guardian, and the New York Times; and I speak widely, at venues that have ranged from universities and community centers to the Library of Congress and the United Nations. In 2017 I received a standing ovation for my talk at TED 2017, their mainstage event in Vancouver. I’ve received numerous awards for my work. The most head-spinning was being named one of “fifty leaders working to transform the world to be a better place to grow older” by the UN’s Decade of Healthy Aging platform (a collaboration between the WHO) in 2022.
The UN credits my book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, with “acting as a catalyst to raise the consciousness of people around the world on what ageism is and what we can do to dismantle it.” I self-published the manifesto in 2016 because no mainstream publisher recognized the importance of the issue. I subsequently sold the right to Celadon Books, a new division of Macmillan, Inc., which published the book on their inaugural list in 2019.
I co-founded the Old School Anti-Ageism Clearinghouse. which launched in 2018. We curate, create, and commission free resources to educate people about ageism and how to end it, host meet-ups; and collaborate with other pro-aging organizations around the world. Our goal is to help create a world where everyone has the opportunity to live long and to live well.
HONORS & RECOGNITION
- named one of The Healthy Ageing 50 by the Decade of Healthy Ageing platform (a collaboration between the UN and the WHO) (2022)
- PSS’s Maggie Kuhn Award (2022)
- FemaleOneZero’s 40 over 40 – The World’s Most Inspiring Women (2022)
- HelpAge USA’s inaugural 60 Over 60 list (2022)
- The Village Chicago’s Trailblazer Award (2021)
- Member of the 2018 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 100
- 2018 Game Changer Award, Lifetime Arts
- Fifth Annual Forbes list of Forty Women to Watch over 40 (2017)
- PBS site Next Avenue’s annual list of 50 Influencers in Aging — Influencer of the Year (2016)
- Salt magazine’s list of The World’s 100 Most Inspiring Women (2015)