“Impassioned, fascinating, profoundly significant, and wildly entertaining . . . I kept grabbing family members and phoning friends to read passages aloud.” — Francine Prose, O: The Oprah Magazine, on Nickel and Dimed
Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of 21 books, including the New York Times best sellers, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2001) and Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America (2010). She is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, the Progressive and Time magazine, and has appeared on Oprah, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and The Joy Behar Show, to name a few.
Before becoming an activist, Ehrenreich studied cell biology and physics, graduating with a degree in physics from Reed College in 1963 and a Ph.D. in cell biology from Rockefeller University in 1968. However, after completing her studies, Ehrenreich became involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement and began to question whether she wanted to spend her life at the laboratory bench. Ultimately, she chose to turn her attention to political and anti-war activism. She joined a tiny non-profit in New York City that advocated for better health care for the city’s poor, where part of the job was to put out a monthly bulletin. Before she knew it, she found herself thoroughly enjoying doing investigative journalism.
With the birth of her first child in 1970, Ehrenreich underwent a political, as well as a personal, transformation. The prenatal care she received at a hospital clinic showed how even Ph.Ds were not immune from the vilest forms of sexism. Bit by bit, she became involved with the “women’s health movement,” advocating for better health care for women and greater access to health information than existed at that time.
Just a few years later, she quit her teaching job at the State University of NY, Old Westbury to become a full-time writer. Her work life settled into three tracks, which continue to this day: journalism, book-length projects, and activism on such issues as health care, peace, women’s rights, and economic justice.
Each of Ehrenreich’s books changed her life in important and unexpected ways. Nickel and Dimed plunged her into the nascent living wage movement, traveling to union rallies, picket lines and organizing meetings around the country. She became comfortable addressing crowds through a bull horn, with no notes at all, got arrested at a protest with Yale workers, joined picket lines with hotel workers in Santa Monica and janitors in Miami, leafleted for a living wage in Charlottesville and marched with ACORN in Michigan.
Curiosity continues to pull Ehrenreich in different directions. She recently published Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, a scholarly book about festivities and ecstatic rituals. Her latest New York Times best seller, Bright-Sided, describes what she calls “the cult of cheerfulness,” which requires Americans to “think positively” rather than to take positive action for change. An urgent call for a new commitment to realism, Bright-Sided was praised by Kirkus Reviews as “bright, incisive, provocative thinking from a top-notch nonfiction writer,” and author Christopher Hitchens proclaimed, “Ehrenreich scores again for the independent-minded.”
At the podium, she reflects with biting humor on her journey as a writer and activist, taking audiences inside her Nickel and Dimed experience and sharing anecdotes and lessons learned from each of her powerful books. Audiences will be brought to their feet by Ehrenreich’s deep rooted passion, profound ability to spur discussion, and her signature sense of humor that audiences have come to expect.
Acknowledging that though she may have found more stability and financial security in science or teaching, Ehrenreich imparts audiences with the message that her work has been the adventure of a lifetime and one that she has never regretted. Living proof of the power of chasing your dream and doing what you love, audiences will leave unequivocally inspired to embark on their own adventures.