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Journalist Cokie Roberts kicks off Book Faire

April 17, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Having lunch Friday with journalist Cokie Roberts was a laugh-filled affair at the Holiday Inn in Martinburg.

Roberts' appearance attracted about 130 people to the kickoff event for the fourth West Virginia Book Faire at "Olde Towne Martinsburg," which continues today.

Authors Dave Pelzer, Michael Shoulders, Jeff Shaara, Nancy Shaw and Walter Dean Myers are scheduled to attend the event. Other activities include an edible book contest at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College, and music and puppets at the Martinsburg Public Library

Roberts, who spoke for nearly 40 minutes before taking questions from the audience, used the opportunity to urge support for libraries, which she said are being stressed by increased use in difficult economic times and less funding.

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"The truth is, people are borrowing books, booksellers can tell you, more than buying them, I'm sorry to say, because of economic squeezes," said Roberts, a senior new analyst at National Public Radio and a political commentator for ABC News.

Roberts, 66, of Bethesda, Md., credited her mother for inspiring her to write history books about wives of the nation's founders and their impact in the political arena.

"Growing up in Washington in the 1940s and 50s, I saw the incredible influence of the political wives," said Roberts, whose parents both served in Congress, representing Louisiana, where she was born.

Roberts recalled that her mother, the wives of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford, and other prominent women ran their husband's offices in Washington and their campaigns, as well as voter registration drives, political conventions and social service agencies.

"They ran everything," Roberts said.

While Roberts said she believed the wives of the founding fathers were at least as influential, she was surprised at how "explicitly political" the women were in the Colonial resistance of British rule.

After writing about John and Abigail Adams in "From This Day Forward," a book Roberts wrote with her husband about their marriage and other marriages in American history, she said she realized she had to find out more about these women.

"I just couldn't get over their story," Roberts said of the Adamses. "He was away for so many years at a time that it was very hard on her, but it was very nice for us because we have all those letters (between them), thousands of letters, and so we really get to know her really well, and as a couple really well."

"She had to support the family, and, oh by the way, the British were coming," Roberts said.

"At one point, he writes to her (from Philadelphia) and says, 'if it gets really dangerous, take our children and fly to the woods,'" Roberts said. Roberts said her research was limited in some instances because correspondence was intentionally destroyed or simply doesn't exist.

Martha Washington burned the correspondence with her husband, and Thomas Jefferson burned his writings to his wife, Martha Jefferson, because he was supposedly "too heartbroken" to keep it after she died, Roberts said.

Roberts said the letters of the founding fathers took on a different tone when written to their wives because they didn't expect the personal correspondence to be preserved like the others.

"They were much franker and funnier, and more fearful and more ambitious," Roberts said.

While riding the circuit in Raleigh, N.C., famed jurist John Marshall told his wife in a letter that he had arrived there without any britches, Roberts said.

Unable to find a tailor, Marshall told his wife that he would have to spend "the rest of the term without that important article of clothing," Roberts said, spurring laughter among the audience.

"What was he wearing? I've really reached a point where I can't look at a portrait of him," Roberts said.

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