Memoir Chronicles The 'Wild And Precious Life' Of Activist Edie Windsor | WYPR

Memoir Chronicles The 'Wild And Precious Life' Of Activist Edie Windsor

Dec 20, 2019
Originally published on December 20, 2019 7:23 am

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If your New Year's resolution is to read more in 2020, well, NPR's Book Concierge can help. It's a feature in which the NPR staff recommend books for you. Our arts correspondent Neda Ulaby chose a memoir by the late lesbian activist Edith Windsor. It's called "A Wild And Precious Life."

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Edie Windsor won a 2013 Supreme Court case that laid the groundwork for legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. That year, Windsor talked to NPR about moving to New York in the 1950s, working as a secretary and asking people she met...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

EDITH WINDSOR: If you know where the lesbians are, please take me.

ULABY: Imagine Edie Windsor in her blonde bouffant and pencil skirt arranged on a Greenwich Village bar stool.

JOSHUA LYON: She really was a big, big, big heartbreaker.

ULABY: Joshua Lyon co-authored "A Wild And Precious Life." He's four decades younger than Windsor and found himself fascinated by her stories of mid-century lesbian bars filled with cigarette smoke and intrigue.

LYON: The jukebox that would play show tunes and old Dinah Shore songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY MAMA DONE TOLD ME")

DINAH SHORE: (Singing) My mama done told me...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

WINDSOR: I really was a middle-class girl.

ULABY: She was born Edith Schlain to respectable Jewish parents who ran a candy store in Philadelphia before the Great Depression.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

WINDSOR: And, of course, you didn't want to be queer.

ULABY: So Edie Windsor was closeted while getting a degree in applied mathematics and working as an early computer programmer for IBM. With her partner, Windsor was part of a circle of wealthy, discreet white lesbians who liked to weekend in the Hamptons. The Stonewall riots in 1969 politicized her. During the AIDS crisis, Windsor helped establish New York's Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center.

LYON: She knew how to get stuff done.

ULABY: Joshua Lyon worked on Windsor's memoir for about eight months before she died in 2017. Her final years were a celebration of her crusade for equal marriage. He thanks her, he says, for his. Still, Lyon says, too many people, including those of us whose lives were directly affected by Windsor's activism, do not know her life story. What's at stake in forgetting, he says, is the threat of slipping back.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

WINDSOR: The fact is, marriage is this magic thing.

ULABY: Edie Windsor on NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

WINDSOR: I mean, forget all the financial stuff. Marriage symbolizes commitment and love like nothing else in the world. I mean, wherever you go, if you're married, that means something to people.

ULABY: And thanks in part to Edie Windsor, it means more legally to Americans promising each other commitment and love. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.