Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (Rooney)

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk 
Kathleen Rooney, 2017
St. Martin's Press
303 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781250113320

She took 1930s New York by storm, working her way up writing copy for R.H. Macy’s to become the highest paid advertising woman in the country. It was a job that, she says, “in some ways saved my life, and in other ways ruined it.”

Now it’s the last night of 1984 and Lillian, 85 years old but just as sharp and savvy as ever, is on her way to a party.

It’s chilly enough out for her mink coat and Manhattan is grittier now—her son keeps warning her about a subway vigilante on the prowl—but the quick-tongued poetess has never been one to scare easily.

On a walk that takes her over 10 miles around the city, she meets bartenders, bodega clerks, security guards, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be, while reviewing a life of excitement and adversity, passion and heartbreak, illuminating all the ways New York has changed—and has not.

A love letter to city life in all its guts and grandeur, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop.

Lillian figures she might as well take her time. For now, after all, the night is still young. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1980
Where—Beckley, West Virginia, USA
Education—B.A., George Washington University; M.A., Emerson College
Awards— Eric Hoffer Award for Poetry
Currently—lives in Chicago, Illinois

Kathleen Rooney is an American writer, publisher, editor, and educator. She was born in Beckley, West Virginia and raised in the Midwest. She earned a B.A. from the George Washington University and an M.F.A. in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College. While at Emerson, she was awarded a 2003 Ruth Lilly Fellowship from Poetry Magazine.

Rooney's first book, Reading with Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America, an in-depth analysis of the cultural and literary impacts of Oprah's Book Club, was published by University of Arkansas Press in 2005 and reissued in 2008. Her first poetry collection, Oneiromance won the 2007 Gatewood Prize from feminist publisher Switchback Books.

Rooney was named one of the Best New Voices of 2006 by Random House, which included her essay "Live Nude Girl" in their influential anthology Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers. A book-length version, Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object, was published by University of Arkansas Press in 2009.

In 2006, Rooney and Abigail Beckel co-founded Rose Metal Press, an independent not-for-profit publisher of hybrid genres (short short, flash, and micro-fiction; prose poetry; novels-in-verse; book-length linked narrative poems).

Rooney is a frequent collaborator with the poet Elisa Gabbert, with whom she has co-authored the collections Something Really Wonderful (2007), That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness (2008), Don't ever stay the same; keep changing (2009), and The Kind of Beauty That Has Nowhere to Go (2013).

In 2011, with poets Dave Landsberger and Eric Plattner, Rooney co-founded the Chicago not-for-profit poetry collective Poems While You Wait, which composes typewritten poetry on demand at local libraries, street & music festivals, museums, & art galleries.

Rooney's 2012 novel-in-verse Robinson Alone, inspired by the life and work of poet Weldon Kees and his alter-ego persona-character "Robinson," won the 2013 Eric Hoffer Award for Poetry. Her debut novel, O, Democracy!, was released by Fifth Star Press in Spring 2014. Her novel, Lillian Fishbox Takes a Walk, based on the life of the 1930s R.H. Macy ad writer and poet, came out in 2017.

A former U.S. Senate Aide, Rooney is currently a visiting assistant professor at DePaul University. She lives in Chicago with her husband, the writer Martin Seay. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 1/8/2017.)

Book Reviews
(Starred review.) Inspired by Margaret Fishback, poet and Macy’s ad-writing phenom.... Elegantly written, Rooney creates a glorious paean to a distant literary life and time—and an unabashed celebration of human connections that bridge the past and future.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) Rooney takes us on a delightful stroll with a colorful character..., sprinkling just the right details and arch bons mots appropriate to Lillian's reputation as a woman of words. —Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Rooney's delectably theatrical fictionalization is laced with strands of tart poetry and emulates the dark sparkle of Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Truman Capote. Effervescent with verve, wit, and heart, Rooney’s nimble novel celebrates insouciance, creativity, chance, and valor.

(Starred review.) While the book effectively underscores the fierce struggles of career women like Lillian in a pre-feminist time, it can also feel schematic.... There is plenty of charm and occasional poignance here even if the novel makes you long for a proper biography.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. How do Lillian’s feelings regarding her mother compare to her feelings regarding her Aunt Sadie Boxfish? And how do these relationships shapeLillian’s ambitions and sense of self?

2. What initially attracts Lillian to poetry and how does it remain significant throughout her life and career, in advertising and otherwise?

3. Why are Lillian and her son Gian’s reactions to the Subway Vigilante and his crime so different? Why does Lillian love New York City unconditionally whereas Gian has come to fear it?

4. Have you ever loved a city or a place so much that you never wanted to leave it? Describe, saying where and why, or why not.

5. Why are manners and kindness so important to Lillian? How does civility relate to empathy and even to democracy?

6. How do Lillian’s achievements and struggles at the office at Macy’s—with her boss, Chester; with getting paid as much as her male colleagues; with her friend and rival coworkers, Helen McGoldrick and Olive Dodd—relate to the workplace as we know it today?

7. Why does Artie, Lillian’s editor, want to change the title of her debut poetry collection from "Oh, Do Not Ask for Promises" to "Frequent Wishing on the Gracious Moon"? And why does she refuse? Do you think he was right or wrong, and were you pleased or disappointed when she said no? Explain why.

8. In what ways does walking in the city feed Lillian’s poetry, her advertising work, and her curiosity? How does her relationship to walking change over time, as both she and her city get older?

9. Why is Lillian ambivalent toward motherhood, and how does her friendship with Wendy differ from her relationship with her son Gian?

10. Why, after scoffing at love and convention for so long, does Lillian fall so hard for Max? What is it about Max that she finds so irresistible?

11. Were you surprised by all the chance encounters that Lillian has with different people on her walk through the city? Why or why not? Do you also like to strike up conversations with strangers? Why or why not?

12. How worried, if at all, did you feel about Lillian as she made her way across Manhattan? Were you troubled by any of her encounters? Heartened? Both? Which ones and why?

13. Lillian can’t stand the new and ugly Penn Station, built in 1968, that replaced the old and beautiful original—are there structures in your past that were torn down that you miss, too? What were they like?.
(Questions by the publisher.)

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