M.G. Lord, an acclaimed author and cultural historian, discussed her new book, her career and her undergraduate years in Saybrook College more than 20 years ago before an intimate audience of a few dozen students at a Saybrook Master’s Tea on Monday afternoon.
Known for her historical analysis of the Barbie doll entitled “Forever Barbie,” Lord described her latest book, “Astro Turf,” as part emotional history of a difficult period in her life and part scientific history of California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
As an editorial cartoonist for the News during her undergraduate career and at Newsday for many years after Yale, Lord said she simply became bored with it and sought a job that was more substantial.
“I wanted to produce something that lasted,” Lord said, “so I looked to Barbie — the non-biodegradable Barbie.”
In “Forever Barbie,” Lord examines the history of cultural implications behind the popular toy doll. Lord’s tea was devoted to her most recent book, but when she was asked whether the Barbie of today has become more accepted by feminists, Lord said she does not think that the doll and its cultural stereotypes are indicative of anti-feminist thought.
“Women learn about femininity from their mothers, not from a nine-inch plastic doll,” she said.
Lord said that she reached back to her childhood again for inspiration on her subsequent book. As the daughter of one of JPL’s rocket scientists, Lord said her motivation for writing “Astro Turf” came from a curiosity about her father’s profession and passion.
“As my mother was dying of cancer, my father was obsessing over spacecraft projects, leaving me alone,” Lord said.
In her book, Lord attributes her father’s absence during this hard time in her life to his feeling of powerlessness over her mother’s situation.
Lord said that she found it very difficult to elide the personal and scientific themes of her book.
“There was no model for a memoir-driven historical analysis like this one,” Lord said, “so it took a lot of trial and error.”
Along that vein, Saybrook Master Mary Miller — who presented Lord with a Saybrook scarf — aptly described “Astro Turf” as a “story of science and a story of M.G. Lord’s life.”
Yonah Freemark ’08 said he was intrigued by the history of science that Lord’s book uncovers.
“I’m glad I came,” Freemark said. “I’m very interested in space and our space program.”
On the other hand, Heather Heldman ’08 said she found Lord’s personal story to be enriching.
“I enjoyed the gender and political issues Lord discussed,” Heldman said. “Her anecdotes were very entertaining.”
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