The Case For Women

I’ve just finished what I think is an important book for our time: Lean In: Women, Work, and The Will to Lead.  The author is Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook.  She makes a compelling case for the greater involvement of women in every facet of leadership in today’s society.


Sandberg is a staunch believer in the right and obligation of every woman to choose the life that fulfills her, whether it’s in the home, or in the world at large, or some combination of the two.  She says it is all honorable and valued work.  But the crux of her message is for women who choose careers in the public arena – especially, business and government.  Her fervent advice for those women: welcome challenges, take risks, boldly seek opportunities to lead.  Sandberg lives her advice.  She leads one of the world’s most successful, most vibrant businesses.  She has found balance in life, dedicating herself equally to her family – husband, children, home.

While reading her book, I thought about the raising of our own two daughters.  My wife and I encouraged them to think boldly about their futures, to choose the paths that suited them.  “You can be whatever you want to be,” we told them, “and we will help you prepare yourselves and overcome obstacles.”  They’ve chosen different paths, but the important thing is, we made sure they felt free to choose.

I also thought that Sheryl Sandberg was talking about the central character of my new novel, The Governor’s Lady.  Cooper Lanier, after spending much of her life in the shadow of politics and politicians, chooses to leap headlong into that world.  She is elected governor of her southern state, and makes the choice to fight for her place in the often-treacherous world of male-dominated politics.  She welcomes challenge.  She seeks leadership.  She goes boldly.  I love her for it.  I think Sheryl Sandberg would be proud of Cooper Lanier.

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As Cooper and her story unfolded in my imagination, I came firmly to the notion that we need more women in government at every level – local, state, federal, elected and appointed.  We have a gracious plenty of testosterone in public life – men whose primary purpose often seems to be simply winning a point, skewering an opponent, advancing an ideology at all costs.  (See Congress, United States).  I think women often come at the business of governing from a different angle: What works?  How can we get things done?  How can we work together?  We could use a great deal more of that.

Women are making strides, gaining ground, breaking glass ceilings.  But not enough.  We need to let them know that what they’re doing is important, valuable, enriching to all of us.  We need to keep encouraging them to lean in.

The Music of Writing

            My grandmother was a piano teacher.  Widowed in middle age with four children, she made her living by sharing her love for music with several generations of young folks, me included.  The popular book for beginners back then was “Teaching Little Fingers to Play,” which is about an apt a title for any book I can imagine.  Thousands of little fingers stumbled across the keys of her Story and Clark upright piano, and many became proficient, a few truly talented.  I fell somewhere just shy of the middle.

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            I wish I had stayed with those piano lessons longer, but at a point in junior high school I got a job and discovered girls, and left the lessons behind.  Still, there are things about my hours at the keyboard of that Story and Clark that have stayed with me.  I can read music, I understand harmony, I have a good feel for rhythm.  The basics.

            Music has always been an important part of my life.  I sang in the high school glee club and church choir.  I became a teenaged disc jockey and worked my way through college spinning records for stations in Tuscaloosa.  I came over time to an appreciation for just about any musical genre  you can imagine – rock, pop, country, bluegrass, classical, jazz.  I retained enough of those basics of composition to write the songs, music and lyrics, for two stage musicals.  I hear music in my head, and some of it is new stuff.  I know enough to put it in a lead sheet and then turn it over to my music professor friend, Dr. Bill Harbinson, who arranges it into what I call “real music.”


            Music informs my storytelling.  I figured out early on in my playwriting career – from studying the work of talented people like Rodgers and Hammerstein – that a song in a play should illuminate character, advance the plot, or (hopefully) both.  The songs should be an integral and seamless part of the story.

            Music and lyrics are woven into my novels.  In Old Dogs and Children, Dorsey Bascombe plays the trombone, and he tells his small daughter Bright that “a trombone is the sound of God breathing.”  In my new book, The Governor’s Lady, a bluegrass band “makes the air dance with their fiddles and guitars and banjos.”  And Pickett Lanier, later to become a governor and presidential candidate, writes and sings a song for his new wife Cooper:

            If I was a three-legged dog, two legs front and one leg rear,
            I’d rouse myself in the evening time, get my three old legs in gear;
            Leave my place in the cool, cool shade, drink my fill of Gatorade,
            And hippity-hop to you, my dear.

            It says a lot about Pickett, and not for the better, that he puts aside his guitar and turns to politics.

            Music has also given me a sense of the rhythm of a story, especially one played out over the length of a book.  To me, a good story has an ebb and flow to it.  It can’t go at break-neck speed all the time.  It needs moments to pause in the cool, cool shade and ponder.  Those are important moments to me in discovering who my characters are and why.

            So it started there on the bench of my grandmother’s Story and Clark upright as she patiently taught my little fingers to play.  Now, when I write, she’s always at my elbow.

Robert Inman’s previously-published novels – Home Fires Burning, Old Dogs and Children, Dairy Queen Days, and Captain Saturday – are available on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Kobo in e-book format.

The Stand In The Schoolhouse Door

It was fifty years ago today – June 11, 1963.  I was a witness to a piece of history that, as much as anything, propelled me into a career in journalism.

The University of Alabama, where I was a student, was until that moment a segregated institution.  There had been one earlier attempt to integrate, but it ended in mayhem.  Now, on this day fifty years ago, two black students – Vivian Malone and James Hood – appeared to register for classes.  Governor George Wallace physically blocked their way, a piece of theatre that came to be known as “the stand in the schoolhouse door.”

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Wallace had run for Governor, and won, on a segregationist platform, and it had backed him into a corner.  The University would be integrated, there was no doubt about that, but Wallace needed political cover.  So the “stand” was carefully orchestrated.  U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy and his aides worked out the scenario: Wallace would make a symbolic stand, the Alabama National Guard would be federalized, and when the Guard showed up, Wallace would stand aside.  Everything went as planned.  Wallace made his show, the students enrolled, and violence was averted.

I was working my way through college at a Tuscaloosa radio station at the time, and beginning to cover local news stories.  This was the biggest.  I was there, notepad and tape recorder in hand, in the throng of local and national press people several yards from Wallace on the steps of Foster Auditorium.  At the moment, my only thought was the story itself .  But in the days ahead, I had time to reflect on the moment and consider it from the perspective of a University student.  I had the unshakeable conviction that Vivian Malone and James Hood – citizens of my state – had every right to be students at my school.  And I thought Governor Wallace had used my school as a stage for political grandstanding.

A couple of years later, I graduated and took a job as a reporter for a Montgomery television station, covering the state capitol and state politics.  Governor Wallace and I had a cordial relationship – reporter and newsmaker.  I came to understand his multi-faceted personality.  He was, in a sense, trapped by his own political rhetoric.  But he had a populist and compassionate streak, too.  He helped created a system of trade schools and junior colleges across Alabama, and championed a free textbook program for elementary and secondary school kids.  There was light and dark in George Wallace, as in us all.

The “stand in the schoolhouse door” was my first big story.  It convinced me that I was on the right career path, and I never looked back.  I came to believe that a good journalist needs three things: integrity, curiosity, and a love of the power of words – to inform, enlighten, entertain, and even disturb.  I have George Wallace to thank for at least some of that.