My First Thirty Years: A Memoir (Paperback)
"Thirty years ago, I lay in the womb of a woman, conceived in a sexual act of rape, being carried during the prenatal period by an unwilling and rebellious mother, finally bursting from the womb only to be tormented in a family whose members I despised or pitied, and brought into association with people whom I should never have chosen."
Shortly after its 1925 publication, Gertrude Beasley's ferociously eloquent feminist memoir was banned and she herself disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Though British Nobel Prize winner Bertrand Russell called My First Thirty Years "truthful, which is illegal" and Larry McMurtry pronounced it the finest Texas book of its era, Beasley's words have been all but inaccessible for almost a century—until now.
Beasley penned one of the most brutally honest coming-of-age historical memoirs ever written, one which strips away romantic notions about frontier women's lives at the turn of the 20th century. Her mother and sisters braved male objectification and the indignities of poverty, with little if any control over their futures. With characteristic ferocity, Beasley rejected a life of dependence, persisting in her studies and becoming first a teacher, then a principal, then a college instructor, and finally a foreign correspondent.
Along the way, Beasley becomes a strident activist for women's rights, socialism, and sex education, which she sees as key to restoring bodily autonomy to women like those she grew up with. She is undaunted by authority figures but secretly ashamed of her origins and yearns to be loved. My First Thirty Years is profoundly human and shockingly candid, a rallying cry that cost its author her career and her freedom.
Her story deserves to be heard.
Praise for My First Thirty Years:
"For almost a century in Texas literary circles, Gertrude Beasley's 1925 memoir has been more a legend than a book... The tangled history of My First Thirty Years, and Beasley's horrific personal fate, are case studies in society's merciless treatment of women of her era who gave voice to socially unspeakable truths. The memoir's republication this month, which makes it widely available for the first time in 96 years, is a long-overdue moment of reckoning. It's also a rich gift to the Texas literary canon."—Texas Monthly
"We should all be as fierce, loud, and convinced of our own self-worth as Gertrude Beasley was. This story of a justifiably angry woman living ahead of the world she lived in will resonate deeply today."—Soraya Chemaly, activist and award-winning author of Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger
"Gertrude Beasley's 1925 memoir grabs the reader by the arm and holds tight, speaking with a voice as compelling as if she had just put down her pen this morning. Feminist, socialist, and acute observer of both herself and the world around her, Beasley gives us stories that illuminate the costs of poverty and of being a woman. To read My First Thirty Years is to be in conversation with an extraordinary mind."—Anne Gardiner Perkins, author of Yale Needs Women
"From its unforgettable first sentence, this brilliant, bitter memoir of West Texas girlhood in the 1920s sears itself into the reader's imagination. Published by an avant-garde Paris press in 1925, banned, forgotten, remembered, treasured, buried again, and finally made available in this new edition, Gertrude Beasley's memoir is invaluable to our understandings of modernism, feminism, sexual violence, and Texas history. Beasley is a born storyteller. I could not put this book down." — Lisa Moore, Archibald A. Hill Professor of English and Professor of Women's and Gender Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
"We should all be as fierce, loud, and convinced of our own self-worth as Gertrude Beasley was. This story of a justifiably angry woman living ahead of the world she lived in will resonate deeply today." — Soraya Chemaly, activist and award-winning author of Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger
A long-overdue moment of reckoning.... a rich gift to the Texas literary canon.
"Gertrude Beasley wrote one of the great modern autobiographies, but it was immediately suppressed. Widely available at last, it is a shocking but moving feminist exploration of growing up in America." — Bert Almon, author of This Stubborn Self: Texas Autobiographies
"My First Thirty Years is a brutally graphic personal memoir that was censored, suppressed, and nearly forgotten. This reprint will finally enable people outside of library special collections to read and honor this memoir by an indominable and almost erased Texas heroine." — Dr. Sylvia Grider, co-author of Texas Women Writers & Senior Professor Emerita, Texas A&M University
"Gertrude Beasley's 1925 memoir grabs the reader by the arm and holds tight, speaking with a voice as compelling as if she had just put down her pen this morning. Feminist, socialist, and acute observer of both herself and the world around her, Beasley gives us stories that illuminate the costs of poverty and of being a woman. To read My First Thirty Years is to be in conversation with an extraordinary mind." — Anne Gardiner Perkins, author of Yale Needs Women
"The timing could not be more fortuitous: My First Thirty Years provides a foundational exploration of the Lone Star State's treatment of women, which, if not uniquely brutal, shows real ambition in a crowded field." — The New York Review of Books
"In a voice as compelling as it is sinister, Gertrude Beasley recounts a hardscrabble upbringing, transcending time and place to bring to life her story of overcoming brutal circumstances in the search for a different way to live—even if her own success was partial. This long-banned memoir is one of the best coming-of-age stories about being poor and a woman—another way of saying, being human—in 20th century Texas. My First Thirty Years is a damn good book, and it deserves a wide audience." — Mary Helen Specht, author of Migratory Animals