Gail Sheehy

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Gail Sheehy
Born Gail Henion
(1937-11-27) November 27, 1937 (age 78)
Mamaroneck, New York, U.S.
Occupation Journalist, author
Language English
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Vermont, Columbia University
Literary movement New Journalism
Notable works Passages; The Silent Passage; Understanding Men's Passages; Hillary's Choice; New Passages; Passages in Caregiving

Gail Sheehy (born November 27, 1937) is an American author, journalist, and lecturer. She is the author of seventeen books, including Passages (1976), named by the Library of Congress one of the ten most influential books of our times.[1] Sheehy has written biographies and character studies of major twentieth-century leaders, including Hillary Clinton, both presidents Bush, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. Her latest book, Daring: My Passages, (Sept. 2014) is a memoir.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Gail Sheehy was born Mamaroneck, New York, to Lillian Rainey Henion and Harold Merritt Henion.[3] Her mother's family was from Northern Ireland--her grandmother Agnes Rooney having run away to America as a mail-order bride.[3] She was close to her father's mother, Gladys Latham Ovens who lived with them. Gladys's husband had died of a stroke during the Great Depression--and so she went to work as a real estate agent for over 40 years.[3] Her grandmother bought Sheehy her first typewriter at age 7.[3] When Sheehy began to sneak into New York City on Saturday mornings, her grandmother kept her secret.[3]

In 1958, she graduated from the University of Vermont with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Home Economics. In 1970, Sheehy earned her Master of Arts in Journalism from Columbia University, where she studied on a fellowship under renowned cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead.



Sheehy played a part in the movement Tom Wolfe called the New Journalism, in which some journalists and essayists experimented with adopting a variety of literary techniques such as scene setting, dialogue, status details to denote social class, and getting inside the story and sometimes reporting the thoughts of a central character. Sheehy's article "The Secret of Grey Gardens", a cover story from the January 10, 1972 issue of New York, brought the bizarre bohemian life of Jacqueline Kennedy's aunt Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and cousin Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale to public attention. The story was the basis for the film Grey Gardens and a Broadway musical of the same name.

Sheehy began working as a journalist for the Rochester publication, Democrat and Chronicle[3] from 1961 to 1963, the World Telegram and Sun for a brief time in 1963,[3] then for the New York Herald Tribune from 1963 to 1966, and then as a contributor to New York from 1968 to 1977. She has been a contributing editor to Vanity Fair magazine since 1984.

Her work has appeared in many other publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, New York Observer, USA Today, O, the Oprah Magazine, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, Harper's Bazaar, Harvard Business Review, Psychology Today, Publishers Weekly, The Guardian, London Telegraph, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Glamour, People, Cosmopolitan, and Parade.[citation needed]

New York magazine[edit]

As a journalist, Sheehy was one of the original contributors to New York, founded by her future husband Clay Felker in 1968, who encouraged his writers to break the conventions of newspaper writing.[4]

Several of Sheehy's articles for New York were developed into books. This includes her novel Lovesounds (1970), a psychological novel that deals with the dissolution of a marriage, Panthermania: The Clash of Black against Black in One American City (1971), and Hustling: Prostitution in Our Wide Open Society (1973), which was turned into an NBC TV movie with Jill Clayburgh.

Selected articles[edit]

1971: "Redpants and Sugarman", New York Magazine[edit]

Sheehy gained notoriety in 1971 after New York magazine published a series she wrote about prostitution called "Wide Open City".[5] Part 2 is called "Redpants and Sugarman".[5]

Sheehy told the Washington Post that she had created a "composite character" for "Redpants" in order to trace the full life cycle of a streetwalker. Editor Felker later explained that the explanation was edited out of the story.[citation needed]

1989: "The Blooming of Margaret Thatcher", Vanity Fair[edit]

Published in June, 1989: President Mitterrand says Britain's prime minister "has eyes like Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe." She also has the nerves of a five-star general and increasingly, the sexual charisma of a woman in her prime. She manipulates her court of bedazzled male advisors with the skill of Elizabeth I. And as she completes her unparalleled tenth year in office, the most powerful woman in the world has vanquished the opposition, gagged the media, and booted out the critics in her own party. So who is there left to tell her when she goes too far?

1992: "What Hillary Wants", Vanity Fair[edit]

Sheehy's 1992 article on Hillary Clinton[6] created a stir by quoting her mentioning rumors of an affair between President George H.W. Bush and a woman named "Jennifer". Sheehy reported that Clinton complained that the media had made much about Gennifer Flowers' affair with Bill Clinton but didn't look into the Bush transgression. Clinton considered that portion of the interview off the record, but Sheehy disagreed, and independently confirmed the "private conversation" Hillary had described by interviewing Hillary's confidante, Atlanta Journal & Constitution owner Anne Cox Chambers, who repeated the conversation word for word.

Fact checkers for Vanity Fair alerted editor Tina Brown to a potential problem, based on their review of the transcript of the interview, but Brown declined to remove the quote. The interview received wide coverage in the press.

1995: "The Inner Quest of Newt Gingrich", Vanity Fair[edit]

Sheehy learned the back story of Gingrich's life from his mother, who revealed that she was a lifelong manic-depressive. Kit Gingrich's first husband abandoned young Newt to a stepfather in exchange for forgiveness of a few months of child-support payments. "Isn't it awful, a man willing to sell off his own son?" Kit Gingrich told Sheehy. Speaker of the House Gingrich told Sheehy that both his fathers were totalitarian and modeled "a very male kind of toughness." He didn't blink when Sheehy asked him if he thought he had a genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder. He said he didn't know, then applauded the special powers of leaders who are thought to have been bipolar. "Churchill had what he called his 'black dog'. Lincoln had long periods of depression." He speculated that leaders who are able to think on several levels at once may have a different biochemical makeup. "You have to have a genetic toughness just to take the beating." he told Sheehy. Her article also revealed that his wife at the time, Marianne Gingrich, did not want him to become president and threatened to make a revelation that would torpedo his 1995 presidential campaign.

2000: "The Accidental Candidate: George W Bush", Vanity Fair[edit]

Sheehy found a possible source of the malapropisms for which Governor Bush was mocked: a history of dyslexia in the Bush family. Diagnostic experts told her that "The errors you've heard Governor Bush make are consistent with dyslexia," and that "a language-disordered person" cannot take in a lot of information at once." Sheehy predicted that if Bush became President, "he would have to develop a work-style where others pre-organized and pre-digested information for him." Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, she suggested, organized much of the candidate's speeches and decisions.

2008: "Hillaryland at War", Vanity Fair[edit]

Publish June 30, 2008: Hillary Clinton's campaign had it all: near-death moments, hard-won triumphs, dysfunctional relationships—and a staff consumed with infighting over how to sell their candidate. It was a battle that revealed why she came so close to victory, as well as why she didn’t make it.

Professional affiliations[edit]

In 2009 Sheehy was named AARP's Caregiver Ambassador. In 2011 she became a Chairwoman for the National Osteoporosis Foundation's Generations of Strength campaign.[citation needed]

Television and other media appearances[edit]

Sheehy has been a frequent guest on NBC's The Today Show, MSNBC's Hardball and What Now? with Andrea Mitchell, ABC's World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer, Good Morning America, Oprah, CBS Sunday Morning, CNN, Larry King Live, Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, and documentaries such as PBS's "American Experience: Clinton".

In July 2015, Sheehy appeared for an interview on Huffpost Live to discuss her 2014 work, Daring.[7]

Plagiarism lawsuit[edit]

Her book Passages was a national bestseller. In 1975 Roger Gould, then a psychiatrist at the University of California at Los Angeles, brought a suit, which was settled out of court, against Sheehy intended to enjoin publication of her book, which had not yet been completed.

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • Seven time recipient of New York Newswomen’s Club Front Page Award for Distinguished Journalism
  • Washington Journalism Review Award for Best Magazine Writer in America
  • New York Public Library Literary Lions Award
  • 1973 National Magazine Award for Report Excellence
  • 1987 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for The Spirit of Survival
  • 1994 Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Dartmouth
  • 1997 Hospital for Special Surgery Award For Groundbreaking Work in Women's Health
  • 2002 American Psychological Association's Presidential Citation
  • 2011 American Society on Aging Leadership Award

A Library of Congress survey named Passages one of the 10 most-influential books of our time.[8]

Personal life[edit]

In 1960 Sheehy married Albert Sheehy.[3] They had one daughter, Maura,[3] and divorced in 1968. In 1984 Sheehy married editor Clay Felker, with whom she adopted a Cambodian child, Mohm. Felker died in 2008.[9] Sheehy currently[when?] lives in New York City.



  • Speed is of the Essence (1971), ISBN 978-0-671-77283-3
  • Panthermania:The Clash of Black Against Black in One American City (1971)
  • Hustling: Prostitution in Our Wide Open Society (1973)
  • Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (1976)
  • Pathfinders: Overcoming the Crises of Adult Life (1983)
  • Spirit of Survival (1987)
  • Character: America's Search for Leadership (1991)
  • The Man Who Changed the World: The Lives of Mikhail S. Gorbachev (1991)
  • The Silent Passage: Menopause (1993)
  • New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time (1995)
  • Understanding Men's Passages: Discovering the New Map of Men's Lives (1998), ISBN 0-6794-5273-7; Simon & Schuster Australia, 1998, ISBN 0-7318-0743-X
  • Hillary's Choice (1999)
  • Middletown, America: One Town's Passage from Trauma to Hope (2003)
  • Sex and the Seasoned Woman: Pursuing the Passionate Life (2007)
  • Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence (2010)
  • Daring: My Passages: A Memoir (2014)



  1. ^ "Overview". Gail Sheehy.
  2. ^ World Archipelago. "Daring: My Passages". HarperCollins US.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sheehy, Gail (2014). Daring: My Passages: A Memoir. William Morrow. ISBN 9780062291691. 
  4. ^ Carmody, Deirdre (July 2, 2008). "Clay Felker, Magazine Pioneer, Dies at 82". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Sheehy, Gail (1971-07-26). "Redpants and Sugarman". New York. Retrieved 2015-07-18. 
  6. ^ Sheehy, Gail (1992-05-01). "What Hillary Wants". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2015-07-18. 
  7. ^ Huffpost Live editors (2015-07-16). 'Daring' Author Gail Sheehy LIVE. The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2015-07-18.  |archive-url= is malformed: timestamp (help)
  8. ^ "Gail Sheehy discusses Passages in Caregiving". Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  9. ^ "Clay Felker, Magazine Pioneer, Dies at 82". 

External links[edit]