About Brenda

Photo © 2018 by Elena Seibert

Brenda was born in Boston, raised in northern Massachusetts (on the New Hampshire border), and has lived in New York City now for many years with her husband, the composer Michael Dellaira.  

She began her newest book, The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a New Nation, six years ago — deep into Obama presidency — when impeachment was far from anyone’s mind.  She was fascinated by the first-ever impeachment of a U.S. president, and, fast forward several years, the topic of impeachment once again sweeps the nation.  But her story of impeachment is about what happened shortly after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and then Vice-President Andrew Johnson, “the Accidental President,” with the unchecked power of executive orders, ignored Congress, pardoned rebel leaders, promoted white supremacy, opposed civil rights, and called Reconstruction unnecessary. Congress had to stop the American president who acted like a king.

In a way, this book is the follow-up to her recent Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877, a New York Times “Notable Book,” that Daniel Walker Howe called “magnificent” in The Wall Street Journal— “written in the style of Van Wyck Brooks, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Carl Sandburg, with a dash of David McCullough,” said the Boston Globe

Her other books include White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award; Genêt: A Biography of Janet FlannerSister Brother Gertrude and Leo Stein; and Hawthorne: A Life, which received the Ambassador Award. She is the also editor of The Selected Poetry of John Greenleaf Whittier for the Library of America’s American Poets Project and the anthology, Nineteenth-Century American Writers on Writing.

The volume, Whitman Speaks, Wineapple’s selection of some of Walt Whitman’s observations about writing, literature, and America will soon be published by the Library of America in celebration of the bicentennial of the poet’s birth. 

She’s received such numerous honors as a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Pushcart Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, two National Endowment Fellowships in the Humanities, and most recently an NEH Public Scholars Award for The Impeachers

She’s also an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Society of American Historians and regularly contributes to major publications such as the New York Times Book ReviewThe New York Review of Books, and The Nation 

And she’s taught at Sarah Lawrence College, in the MFA program at Johns Hopkins University, at New York University, and at Union College as Doris Zemurray Stone Professor of Modern Literary and Historical Studies.  Formerly Distinguished Writer-in-Residence and Executive Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at The Graduate School, CUNY, she now teaches in the MFA programs at The New School and Columbia University’s School of the Arts.