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By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Howard-Johnson Weighs In on Molly Ivins' Tombstone Credentials

Molly Ivins Dies Before Her Work Is Finished

I'm glad Molly Ivins didn't get to write her own obituary.

She said of herself that she was "a left-wing, aging-Bohemian journalist who never made a shrewd career move, never dressed for success, never got married, and isn't even a lesbian, which at least would be interesting." Molly didn't get her self-assessment as right as she did when she was taking potshots at public figures.

I didn't know Molly Ivins well. Not even as a fan. Her column didn't appear in my local daily newspaper and I didn't know what she looked like until she spoke at Book Expo America -- I can't remember whether it was the one in Chicago in 2001 or the one in Los Angeles a few years after that. It really doesn't matter. What does matter is I became aware that Molly is a model.

Oh, not a fashion model. When she used her acerbic wit on herself, she accurately pinpointed her lack of style sense. That one time I saw her I was underwhelmed by the clothing she selected for a tiny woman speaking behind a podium in meeting room the size of a stadium. But I do take issue with the "ageing-Bohemian journalist" comment and a few others. Here's what I mean:

Aging? Molly died at 62. Her obit in the LA Times shows her with a mug of coffee and a broad smile. Her hair may have been blonde or silver -- it doesn't matter -- but it's obvious this woman did not age. I suspect she never covered her knees with a shawl and her wit kept her not two steps but about a mile ahead of some like Rush Limbaugh and George W. who she called "Shrub." Mind you, her barbs were never slimy, always seemed effortless and were mostly well-deserved.

Journalist? She got that part right, at least. Molly managed to shine a light on our national stupidity and do it with humor. The Molly-Ivins-variety of journalism is the ilk that keeps America free by exposing the potbellies and pocket linings of government and politicians so the rest of us know how to vote and what to write our legislators about.

Now. That "left-wing" label she applied to herself. I'm tired of the word "left-wing." It's meaningless because it keeps shifting like a rattler in a sand dune. It used to be that left-wing meant an antiprivacy stance. It meant favoring big-government and approving ninnies who pork-barreled and kept the budget off kilter. Now it seems that "left-wing" is what "right wing" used to be. "Left-wing" describes people like Molly who want to keep government out of people's bedrooms and their doctors' offices. People like Molly who don't want to spend our taxes on war efforts that destroy more than they save. If the term keeps up its dyslexic shifts from left to right and back again people could easily misunderstand who Molly was when they read her headstone 100 years hence. I'd like them be certain that it was not Molly who contributed to the demise of our country's freedoms but one of those who penned mightily to keep that from happening.

That "never got married" assessment she mentioned? Maybe she felt that was necessary because she grew in decades before women realized that they didn't need a husband to be successful. If she still felt self-conscious about her marital status, at least she could set an example for acceptance of others by adding the lesbian comment. The world can still use more of her tolerance and fewer of those assumptions about status and gender.

Let's move on to "never made a shrewd career move." Molly started being a journalist more than 30 years ago when no career was easy for women. You know, in the days when women couldn't get a credit card in their own name after they divorced? I know how hard it was to be a woman and in a man's world back then. I was there. Carving a career in that environment was worse, and newsrooms were the worst of the worse. They were corrals where men hung out and the few women writers in them clustered together in the society department wearing picture hats and pillboxes. Molly built a career as a syndicated columnist in those times and she wasn't writing about Bombeckian subjects. She was doing hardcore politics. From there she went on to become a bestselling author of several books including Bushwacked: Life in George W. Bush's America.

Any career mistakes she may have made may be destined to remain a mystery, but it is evident that she made enough smart moves to . . . .well, to deserve a huge obituary in the LA Times and to make me -- a stranger -- miss her. She also made enough righton decisions to make me sure that my country, journalism, and women will be less well off without her knowing voice to make us smile and think.

Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbit: Authors' Coalition is sponsoring a big, double booth at the LA Times Festival of Books. Authors don't need to be present to utilize some of the promotions associated with the booth. Learn more at my book fair-focused blog.

Readers' Tip: My new website (one I almost had a nervous breakdown learning how to do myself!) now has a Link for Readers page that is growing every day. Find it at If you have a book that should appear there, send me an e-mail with "Your Website" in the subject line. Be sure to include the author's URL or another address where the book might be purchased, a short description (like one sentence) the title and author's name. Send it to:

2007 Past Columns

Molly Ivans

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