Lady Romeo: The Radical and Revolutionary Life of Charlotte Cushman, America's First Celebrity

Tana Wojczuk (Author)


"A lively, illuminating new biography...Wojczuk reveals the force and vitality of this woman, on the stage and off." --Nina MacLaughlin, The Boston Globe

"Once the empress of the stage, the indomitable 19th-century superstar Charlotte Cushman has been lost to us. Tana Wojczuk resurrects her here, charisma and originality intact. A brisk, beautifully crafted life of a pioneering actor who--on and off the stage--indeed seems to have been, as Wojczuk puts it, 'a better man than most men.'" --Stacy Schiff, bestselling author of The Witches and Cleopatra

For fans of Book of Ages and American Eve, this illuminating and enthralling biography of 19th-century queer actress Charlotte Cushman portrays her radical lifestyle that riveted New York City and made headlines across America.

All her life, Charlotte Cushman refused to submit to others' expectations. Raised in Boston at the time of the transcendentalists, a series of disasters cleared the way for her life on the stage--a path she eagerly took, rejecting marriage and creating a life of adventure, playing the role of the hero in and out of the theater as she traveled to New Orleans and New York City, and eventually to London and back to build a successful career. Her Hamlet, Romeo, Lady Macbeth, and Nancy Sykes from Oliver Twist became canon, impressing Louisa May Alcott, who later based a character on her in Jo's Boys, and Walt Whitman, who raved about "the towering grandeur of her genius" in his columns for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. She acted alongside Edwin and John Wilkes Booth--supposedly giving the latter a scar on his neck that was later used to identify him as President Lincoln's assassin--and visited frequently with the Great Emancipator himself, who was a devoted Shakespeare fan and admirer of Cushman's work. Her wife immortalized her in the angel at the top of Central Park's Bethesda Fountain; worldwide, she was "a lady universally acknowledged as the greatest living tragic actress." Behind the scenes, she was equally radical, making an independent income, supporting her family, creating one of the first bohemian artists' colonies abroad, and living publicly as a queer woman. And yet, her name has since faded into the shadows.

Now, her story comes to brilliant life with Tana Wojczuk's Lady Romeo, an exhilarating and enlightening biography of the 19th-century trailblazer. With new research and rarely seen letters and documents, Wojczuk reconstructs the formative years of Cushman's life, set against the excitement and drama of 1800s New York City and featuring a cast of luminaries and revolutionaries who changed the cultural landscape of America forever. The story of an astonishing and uniquely American life, Lady Romeo reveals one of the most remarkable forgotten figures in our history and restores her to center stage, where she belongs.

Product Details

$27.00  $24.84
Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
Publish Date
July 07, 2020
5.6 X 0.9 X 8.4 inches | 0.6 pounds

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About the Author

Tana Wojczuk is a senior nonfiction editor at Guernica and teaches writing at New York University. Previously, she has worked as an arts critic for Vice, Bomb Magazine, and Paste and as a columnist for Guernica. Other essays, criticism, and poetry have appeared in in The New York Times, Tin House, The Believer, Gulf Coast, Apogee, Lapham's Quarterly, The Rumpus, Narrative, Opium Magazine, and elsewhere. Tana has an MFA in nonfiction from Columbia University where she formerly taught. She was recently a finalist for the Gulf Coast Nonfiction Prize and has been a fellow at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation residency and Tin House Summer Writers Workshop. Originally from Boulder, Colorado, she now lives in Brooklyn, New York.


"She left Louisa May Alcott stage-struck. She shocked Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She failed to impress Queen Victoria. She charmed Abraham Lincoln. And she made Henry James feel he had heard Shakespeare as he never would again. Once the empress of the stage, the indomitable nineteenth-century superstar Charlotte Cushman has been lost to us.Tana Wojczuk resurrects her here, charisma and originality intact. A brisk, beautifully crafted life of a pioneering actor who--on and off the stage--indeed seems to have been, as Wojczuk puts it, 'a better man than most men.'" --STACY SCHIFF, author of The Witches

"I've been waiting for a very long time for such an illuminating appraisal of Charlotte Cushman, a major and undervalued figure in nineteenth-century America. What Tana Wojczuk accomplishes here is thrilling. This is a timely book and will be valued by anyone interested in the life and times of a defining figure in American culture." --JAMES SHAPIRO, author of Shakespeare in a Divided America

"Lady Romeo is a magnificent portrait of Charlotte Cushman, a woman whose name I had never known and now will never forget. Tana Wojczuk tells the story of this remarkable life in a sensuous, smart, and very real way that had me uttering 'Wow' out loud every page I turned. By the end, I was deeply in love with Charlotte, and I know that readers will be, too." --MOLLY SCHIOT, author of Game Changers and creator of @TheUnsungHeroines

"Tana Wojczuk's method in Lady Romeo is simple and dazzling. Chapter by chapter, she paints the past with words, and the reader is effortlessly drawn into a forgotten world." --JONATHAN LETHEM