Kate Manning is the author of Whitegirl, a novel (Dial Press, 2002). A former documentary television producer for public television, she has won two New York Emmy Awards, and also written for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times Book Review, among others. She has taught creative writing at Bard High School Early College in Manhattan, where she lives with her boisterous family, including a dog named Moon, who walks her regularly.
Her latest novel is My Notorious Life. The novel introduces Axie Muldoon, a fiery heroine for the ages whose story begins on the streets of 1860s New York. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day.
From Manning's Omnivoracious Q & A with Sara Nelson:
Madame X, nee Axie Muldoon, is based at least partly on a real historical character. How did you come upon her story in the first place.Visit Kate Manning's website.
I didn't start by knowing about Ann Lohman, but I was really looking to write a good old-fashioned rip-roaring tale. Since I really love New York history, I knew the work of photographer Jacob Riis. His pictures [of 19th century New York were] are so compelling, I just wanted to insert myself in the streets of old New York and see what that's like. And writing about that time gave me a chance to play with language in a way that you can't do in a modern, contemporary, white person voice.
Anyway, I came across a really intense picture of a young girl, and I started to write a story about this kid. I read some history and learned that there were 30,000 homeless kids on the streets of New York in the 19th century And nobody really knew what to do about them. So I imagined a child of Irish immigrants, a child who got swept up in the answer to the question: the orphan train movement, which was the system by which 250,000 kids, orphaned kids, were sent west on trains between 1850 and 1930. I began to imagine that girl I'd seen the picture of being involved in this. And then I started to read about Ann Lohman, [the real life midwife], and at first I just thought "That's a story I never heard of. I can't believe I've never heard of her because she was notorious in her day." But the more I thought of it, the more I realized that her story was really worth telling, or at least borrowing from. And I started thinking Axie could grow up into this woman.
Then, when I read that people thought Lohman eventually faked her own suicide and that some day she'd come back and tell her story, that she was alive somewhere and driving her fancy carriage through the streets of London -- and that she would someday spill the secrets of all of New York society, all the rich guys and the politicians whose mistresses and daughters and wives had used her services. . . and that she had substituted the body of one of her victims so that she could get away, I thought, "Well...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: My Notorious Life.