Gail Caldwell on friendship, feminism, and survival

David WIlson For The Boston Globe

Gail Caldwell had already written three memoirs. “I always say I’ll never do this again,” she said. “But then, I’m a writer. So something starts to happen.”

Her latest book, “Bright Precious Thing,” began as a series of essays, touching on friendship, feminism, and survival. She wrote, Caldwell said, “from my late sixties looking back into the late ’60s. I started to see the paths that I had taken as much more defined by my gender and my experience with the early women’s movement than I had ever really written about.”

The shorter pieces she was writing gained urgency during and after the 2016 election. “I felt the way writers often feel, which is utterly helpless,” she said. “The only thing I had is my voice.”


Although the book travels down some dark roads — including more than one experience while hitchhiking — there is a sweetness at its heart, primarily due to the relationship Caldwell describes with a neighbor child who has become her dear friend. “This amazing child! She fell into my life,” Caldwell said. Dubbed Tyler in the book (not her real name) she is Caldwell’s buddy and inspiration, a fellow fan of dogs and words.

“I live in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood for hippies,” said Caldwell, a Cambridge resident and formerly the Globe’s chief book critic. “As a single woman in her sixties, milling about my house with my dog and my garden, Tyler was a subject to me of such transformative joy and victory and jaw-dropping amazement.” Now 10, the girl listened to Caldwell read every word of the book about her, and approved. She’s not old enough yet to read the whole book.

The other great love in the book is for dogs. “I have this profound respect for human-animal relationships,” she said. “Our relationship to nature and what it teaches us about death and rebirth: that matters to me more and more and everything else matters less and less as I age.”


Gail Caldwell will be in conversation with Gloria Steinem at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 7, at a virtual event hosted by Harvard Book Store. See www.harvard.com for details.

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.