Growing up in the Milwaukee area and graduating with a B.A. in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Debra Brenegan went on to work as a journalist. Ms. Brenegan also taught at Milwaukee Area Technical College before she began her graduate work. Debra Brenegan went on to receive her M.A. and Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing from The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she also taught. Ms. Brenegan currently teaches English and Women’s Studies at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.
Debra Brenegan has received many awards for her works of fiction, including a Ragdale residency as well as being a recent finalist for the John Gardner Memorial Fiction Prize, The Cincinnati Review’s Schiff Prose Prize, and the Crab Creek Review Fiction Prize. Ms. Brenegan's work has recently appeared or is soon to appear in Calyx, Tampa Review, Natural Bridge, The Laurel Review, RE:AL, The Southern Women’s Review, The Cimarron Review, Milwaukee Magazine and Phoebe.
While teaching, Ms. Brenegan resides in a 130-year-old house in Fulton with her husband, Steve, and their elderly cat. They spend summers and school breaks in their native Milwaukee.
Please tell us a bit about your book, Shame the Devil, and what you hope readers take away from reading it.
Shame the Devil tells the remarkable and true story of Fanny Fern (the pen name of Sara Payson Willis), one of the most successful, influential, and popular writers of the 19th century. A novelist, journalist, and feminist, Fern (1811-1872) outsold Harriet Beecher Stowe, won the respect of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and served as literary mentor to Walt Whitman. Scrabbling in the depths of poverty before her meteoric rise to fame and fortune, she was widowed, escaped an abusive second marriage, penned one of the country's first prenuptial agreements, married a man 11 years her junior, and served as a 19th-century Oprah to her hundreds of thousands of fans. Her weekly editorials in the pages of the New York Ledger over a period of about 20 years chronicled the myriad controversies of her era and demonstrated her firm belief in the motto, "Speak the truth, and shame the devil." Through the story of Fern and her contemporaries, including Walt Whitman, Catharine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shame the Devil brings the intellectual and social ferment of mid-19th-century America to life.