Frances FitzGerald (journalist)

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Frances FitzGerald
Frances FitzGerald by David Shankbone.jpg
Born (1940-10-21) 21 October 1940 (age 81)
Alma materRadcliffe College
OccupationJournalist, historian
Spouse(s)James P. Sterba

Frances FitzGerald (born October 21, 1940)[1] is an American journalist and historian, who is primarily known for Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (1972), an account of the Vietnam War. It was a bestseller that won the Pulitzer Prize, Bancroft Prize, and National Book Award.

Early life[edit]

Frances FitzGerald was born in New York City, the only daughter of Desmond FitzGerald, an attorney on Wall Street, and socialite Marietta Peabody.[1] Her grandmother was a prominent activist in the civil rights movement of the 1960s,[2] and from an early age, FitzGerald was introduced to a wide range of political figures.[3] Her parents divorced shortly after World War II. From 1950 to his death in 1967, her father was an intelligence officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, becoming a deputy director.

As a teenager, FitzGerald wrote voluminous letters to Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, her mother's lover,[4] expressing her opinion on many subjects, a reflection of her deep interest in world affairs.[5] She graduated from Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia and magna cum laude from Radcliffe College, then a women's college associated with Harvard University.


External video
video icon Booknotes interview with FitzGerald and Peter Kann on Reporting Vietnam, January 31, 1999, C-SPAN

FitzGerald became a journalist, initially writing for the New York Herald Tribune magazine. She went to South Vietnam in January 1966.[6] She met Washington Post journalist Ward Just at a party soon after arriving in Saigon and began a relationship with him that continued until she left South Vietnam in November 1966.[7]: 42, 87  She formed a close connection with Daniel Ellsberg who was working as an intelligence officer at the U.S. Embassy.[7]: 56–7  Unlike many male journalists, she didn't report on the latest combat operations, but rather focussed on the effects of the war on South Vietnamese politics and society. Her first article titled "The Hopeful Americans & the Weightless Mr. Ky" was published in the Village Voice on 21 April 1966.[7]: 57–8  She investigated the effects of Operation Masher on South Vietnamese civilians and followed the Buddhist Uprising.[7]: 61–6  She repeatedly visited the village of Duc Lap, interviewing villagers to write "Life and Death of a Vietnamese Village" which appeared in The New York Times Magazine on 4 September 1966.[7]: 80–2  Her final story was "Behind the Facade: the Tragedy of Saigon" describing the conditions of refugees who had sought safety in the city and were overwhelming its inadequate infrastructure and funding.[7]: 84–6 

On her return to New York she attended Truman Capote's Black and White Ball with her mother, stepfather and half-sister Penelope Tree on 28 November 1966, which launched Tree's modelling career.[7]: 87 

In late June 1967 she met Just in Paris and the two then spent July and August writing at Glin Castle owned by her distant relative Desmond John Villiers FitzGerald, Knight of Glin.[7]: 99  She flew back to Washington in late July to attend her father's funeral and then returned to Glin.[7]: 102  In October Just sent her a birthday letter advising that he had got married. Just's book, To What End, written at Glin, did not mention Fitzgerald by name.[7]: 103 

In October 1967 she was introduced to Paul Mus who was visiting professor at Princeton University. Mus' book Sociologie d'une Guerre had informed her writing on Vietnam. Mus became a mentor to her until his death in 1969.[7]: 105–8  In 1968 she signed a contract with the Atlantic Monthly Press for a book about the Americans and Vietnam.[7]: 107 

In late 1969 she was awarded residency at the MacDowell Colony and began a relationship with fellow resident writer Alan Lelchuk. At the end of the residency she lived with Lelchuk in Cambridge, Massachusetts where he worked as an assistant professor at Brandeis University.[7]: 159–60 

Following Mus' death, John McAlister and Richard H. Solomon acted as advisers on Fitzgerald's book. In January 1970 she met with Henry Kissinger to discuss Richard Nixon's Vietnam policy. Later in 1970 she was visited by Daniel Ellsberg who discussed his misgivings about the war. In June 1971 she submitted the completed manuscript to her publishers.[7]: 164–7 

She returned to Saigon in September 1971 and while there began a relationship with Kevin Buckley, the Saigon bureau chief for Newsweek.[7]: 168 

Her book Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam was serialised in five parts in The New Yorker in its newly-created "Annals of War" series starting in July 1972 earning her a Special Front Page Award.[8][7]: 202–3  Fire in the Lake was met with great acclaim when it was published in August 1972 and won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, the Bancroft Prize for history, and the U.S. National Book Award in Contemporary Affairs.[9][10][7]: 204  The book cautioned that the United States did not understand the history and culture of Vietnam and it warned about American involvement there.[11]

She returned to South Vietnam in early 1974 one year after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords and twice crossed over into Vietcong controlled territory, filing stories for The New York Times and the Atlantic Monthly. She travelled to Hanoi in late 1974 and stayed in North Vietnam into early January 1975, writing a 23 page article for the New Yorker.[7]: 229–32 

FitzGerald has continued to write about history and culture: her published books include America Revised (1979), a highly critical review of history textbooks published in the United States; Cities on a Hill (1987), an analysis of United States urban history compared to ideals; Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War (2000),[12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19] a Pulitzer Prize finalist;[20] and Vietnam: Spirits of the Earth (2002).[21]

In 1987, FitzGerald received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement presented by Awards Council member Robert K. Massie.[22]

Her book Cities on a Hill includes a chapter on the Rajneesh Ranch, whose rise and fall in the 1980s in Oregon is the subject of the documentary "Wild, Wild Country".

External media
audio icon NPR interview with FitzGerald on The Evangelicals, May 2, 2017
video icon Presentation by FitzGerald on The Evangelicals, April 12, 2017, C-SPAN

Her book, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, published in 2017,[23] is a history of the evangelical movement, its central figures, and its long-reaching influence upon American history, politics, and culture.[24][25][26] The Evangelicals was shortlisted for the 2017 National Book Award for nonfiction.[27]

FitzGerald has also written numerous articles, which have been published in The New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Architectural Digest, and Rolling Stone. Her "Rewriting American history" was published in The Norton Reader. She serves on the editorial boards of The Nation and Foreign Policy magazines. She serves as vice-president of International PEN.

Personal life[edit]

FitzGerald is married to James P. Sterba, a former writer for The Wall Street Journal. They live in New York City and Maine. Sterba featured the latter in his 2003 book Frankie's Place: A Love Story.[28]


  • FitzGerald, F. (1972), Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam
  • FitzGerald, F. (1979), America Revised
  • FitzGerald, F. (1986), Cities on a Hill: A Journey through Contemporary American Cultures
  • FitzGerald, F. (2000), Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star wars and the End of the Cold War
  • FitzGerald, F. (2001), Vietnam: Spirits of the Earth
  • FitzGerald, F. (2017), The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America


  1. ^ a b Brennan, Elizabeth A.; Clarage, Elizabeth C. (1999). Who's who of Pulitzer Prize Winners. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-57356-111-2.
  2. ^ "Frances FitzGerald, Magazine Writer, Married to James P. Sterba, Reporter". The New York Times. December 23, 1990. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
  3. ^ Applegate, Edd (January 1, 1996). Literary Journalism: A Biographical Dictionary of Writers and Editors. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 89. ISBN 9780313299490. frances fitzgerald journalist.
  4. ^ "Running Around in High Circles". Retrieved June 9, 2020.
  5. ^ Her letters are in the Adlai Stevenson Collection at Princeton University.
  6. ^ "Biography - Frances FitzGerald". Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Becker, Elizabeth (2021). You Don't Belong Here How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War. Public Affairs Books. ISBN 9781541768208.
  8. ^ "Newswomen Name Winners of Awards". The New York Times. Vol. CXXII, no. 41941 (Late City ed.). November 22, 1972. p. 41. Retrieved November 10, 2020.
  9. ^ "General Nonfiction". Past winners and finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-17.
  10. ^ "National Book Awards – 1973" (web). National Book Awards. 2007. Retrieved March 3, 2008..
    There was a "Contemporary" or "Current" award category from 1972 to 1980.
  11. ^ "VIETNAM I-FIRE IN THE LAKE". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  12. ^ "Nonfiction Book Review: Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War by Frances Fitzgerald, Author Simon & Schuster $30 (592p) ISBN 978-0-684-84416-9". Publishers Weekly. April 3, 2000. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
  13. ^ Schoenfeld, Gabriel (May 1, 2000). "Way Out There in the Blue by Frances FitzGerald". Commentary Magazine. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
  14. ^ Brinkley, Alan (April 16, 2000). "An Idea Whose Time Will Not Go". New York Times. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
  15. ^ Tobias, Scott (March 29, 2002). "Frances FitzGerald: Way Out There In The Blue". The A.V. Club. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
  16. ^ Herken, Gregg (April 1, 2001). "Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of the Cold War (review)". Technology and Culture. 42 (2): 385–386. doi:10.1353/tech.2001.0062. ISSN 1097-3729. S2CID 110964779.
  17. ^ Jervis, Robert (Winter 2000–2001). "Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War, Frances FitzGerald". Political Science Quarterly. 115 (4): 630–632. doi:10.2307/2657621. JSTOR 2657621.
  18. ^ Stephen, Vaughn (October 1, 2001). "Frances Fitzgerald. Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2000. Pp. 592. $30.00". The American Historical Review. 106 (4): 1422–1423. doi:10.1086/ahr/106.4.1422. ISSN 0002-8762.
  19. ^ McMahon, Edwina (April 1, 2001). "Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War by Frances Fitzgerald". American Foreign Policy Interests. 23 (2): 110–114. doi:10.1080/108039201750463353. ISSN 1080-3920. S2CID 153696150.
  20. ^ "History". Past winners and finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-17.
  21. ^ "Vietnam: Spirits of the Earth". The New Yorker. December 10, 2001. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
  22. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  23. ^ "THE EVANGELICALS The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald". Kirkus Reviews. February 6, 2017. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
  24. ^ Wolfe, Alan (March 28, 2017). "With God on Their Side: How Evangelicals Entered American Politics". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
  25. ^ Wills, Garry (April 20, 2017). "Where Evangelicals Came From". The New York Review of Books. ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
  26. ^ "Nonfiction Book Review: The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald. Simon & Schuster, $35 (706p) ISBN 978-1-4391-3133-6". Publishers Weekly. February 13, 2017. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
  27. ^ Katie Tuttle (March 15, 2018). "National Book Critics Circle Announces Winners for 2017 Awards". National Book Critics Circle. Retrieved March 17, 2018.
  28. ^ Jim Sterba, Frankie's Place A Love Story, Jim Sterba website (This is the home page 2012-03-17.)

External links[edit]