George Diepenbrock
KU News Service

Novelist explores social issues of Roaring Twenties, Jazz Age

Tue, 04/22/2014

LAWRENCE — Popular television dramas "Downton Abbey" and "Boardwalk Empire" explore the cultural changes centered around the Jazz Age and Roaring Twenties

Novelist Laura Moriarty said the era was marked by social upheaval in American and European life, especially regarding women's issues and race, which has likely made it stand out as a popular cultural topic today. She researched different settings  — mostly 1922 Kansas and New York — when writing her best-selling novel "The Chaperone."

"It's historical fiction that very much resonates with today's issues," said Moriarty, an associate professor of English who teaches fiction writing.

Moriarty has gained international attention for "The Chaperone" and its fictional portrayal of silent film star Louise Brooks and Cora Carlisle, the woman who chaperoned the irreverent Brooks on a trip from Wichita to New York so she could study at a prestigious dance institute.

For Moriarty, research for the novel required that she cover much more than just aspects of Brooks' life. Characters in the novel have ties to the Orphan Train Movement, the Ku Klux Klan in Kansas, flappers in New York and Prohibition.

"Yes, you have to get all the research for the details, but the biggest thing was to get into the mindset," she said.

Moriarty was drawn to the intergenerational tension between Brooks and the older Carlisle, whose generation of women had fought for women's rights by campaigning for suffrage and supported Prohibition. The younger Brooks, as a flapper, personified new generation that rebelled from corsets, high collars and long skirts.

"I see how so many young women dress now, and I feel like an old fuddy-duddy. Why are you dressed like that? But it's the same thing," Moriarty said. "It's always going to be that way. There's going to be that tension between the young and the old. I feel like that's timeless."

In addition to exploring the dynamic between two generations of women in the novel, Moriarty said she also tried to highlight cultural practices that were more widely accepted during that time period than they are today. Like most of the South, the Ku Klux Klan had strong membership in Wichita in 1922 of the novel, and she portrays how some characters accepted that.

"I like historical fiction not because I'm nostalgic for the past at all. I like it because of the way it makes me reconsider today," Moriarty said. "We see these values as temporary. That what way we live now, and what we think is good and true and moral now might not be good and true and moral in 100 years. So I think looking back on it and seeing what people believed as obvious, you see that those values are replaceable."

Portraying those major social changes in historical fiction is a way to draw those conversations back into popular culture today, she said. Moriarty hopes it sparks readers to critique cultural and social issues of today, much like attitudes of the 1920s that later changed.

The success of "The Chaperone" — translation rights have been sold in  in Russia, Spain, Portugal, China, France, Italy, Norway and Germany — has drawn the attention of two well-known artists who have an interest in portraying this same time period.

Fox Searchlight has acquired rights to Moriarty's novel, and a film project with a production date not yet set will include "Downton Abbey" star Elizabeth McGovern playing Cora Carlisle in a script written by Downton's creator Julian Fellowes.

Moriarty — whose first novel, "The Center of Everything," is the 2014-15 KU Common Book — said the international attention for "The Chaperone" has thrilled her, attributing its success partly to the attention on that pivotal period of American history.

"It's just not 1922," she said. "It goes forward in America and shows how much America changed."

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The Daily MailSat, 04/25/2015
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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here:
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

RT @kulibraries : Check out this news feature & then check out his book with us: #KULibraries #KUWorks…
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.

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