I have had three nonfiction books published, and a fourth is coming out in the next year, to be titled The Rebels of Braintree. In The Rebels of Braintree, I follow the intertwined lives of John Hancock, John Adams, Josiah Quincy Junior, Abigail Smith Adams, and Dorothy Quincy Hancock, all of whom spent their childhoods in Braintree, Massachusetts.
Curious about the history of Braintree — how is it that such prominent leaders of revolution all came from this tiny village? — I not only uncovered what it is that all these men and women shared that led them to become leaders of the rebellion against England but I also came to understand how the desire for independence cut across class lines, and yet how families could be divided, rebels versus loyalists, in pursuing common goals of opportunity, liberty, and stability.
Having studied history in college, I intended to pursue a law degree that would compliment further work as a historian. But life intervened and I spent very happy and productive years working as an environmental lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council. I got married and had four children, whom I raised alongside my stepdaughter, first in New York City and then in Connecticut.
I began writing histories when I wrote a memoir of my year of reading a book a day, titled Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading and published by HarperCollins. My memoir tells the story of how reading helped me continue on in the world after my oldest sister died of cancer, and also relates the history of my family: my immigrant parents with their three girls, struggling and thriving in the Midwest while carrying aching memories of World War II.
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair was hailed as “an outstanding debut” by Kirkus Reviews and designated a “book to read now” by Oprah. It was widely hailed as an ode to the joys and comforts of reading, including by The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, Bookpage, Publishers’s Weekly, and Booklist.
My second book, titled Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letterwriting (published by Simon & Schuster), is a history of letter writing, written after I found a treasure of letters in the backyard of a decrepit brownstone on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The letters had been written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century from a son to his mother, and included the daily notes he sent to her during his four years at Princeton.
My discovery of the letters of James Seligman, along with my lifelong love of letters and the fact that my oldest son was leaving for college — would he ever write to me? — sent me off on a quest to understand the history of letter writing, and to define the qualities of letters that make them so special.
Oprah hailed Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing, as a book “every joy-seeking woman needs to read” and my second book also received celebratory reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Review, Library Journal, and Booklist.
I did a TED talk about the joys of letter writing, which can be viewed here.
My third book of history was sparked by research I attempted to conduct while writing my book on letters. Long fascinated by the poets Amy Lowell, James Russell Lowell, and Robert Lowell, I searched for Lowell family letters while researching Signed, Sealed, Delivered and was horrified to discover the family had a tradition of burning correspondence posthumously. But with diligence and determination, I was able to discover troves of Lowell family letters scattered throughout archives and collections, and I decided to write a multi-generational history of this fascinating family.
The Lowells of Massachusetts: An American Family, my third book and the first to be published by St. Martin’s Press, tells the story of the Lowell family, from Percival Lowle’s arrival in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1639 through the blazing of Amy Lowell’s poetic glory in the early twentieth century.
The family boasted some of the most astonishing individuals in America’s history: Percival Lowle, the 68-year old patriarch who arrived in America in the seventeenth to plant the roots of the family tree; Reverend John Lowell, the big-hearted preacher; Judge John Lowell, lawyer extraordinaire and a member of the Continental Congress; Francis Cabot Lowell, manufacturer and founder of the Industrial Revolution in the US; James Russell Lowell, American Romantic poet and abolitionist; Lawrence Lowell, one of Harvard’s longest-serving and most controversial presidents; and Amy Lowell, the twentieth century Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who lived openly in a Boston Marriage with the actress Ada Dwyer Russell.
Critics hailed The Lowells of Massachusetts as “[A] stirring saga …Vivid and intimate, Ms. Sankovitch’s account entertains us with Puritans and preachers, Tories and rebels, abolitionists and industrialists, lecturers and poets … Ms. Sankovitch has made a compelling contribution to Massachusetts and American History.” ( The Wall Street Journal)
“Meet American’s Most Extraordinary Family: the Lowells of Massachusetts,” said The Washington Post: “Sankovitch has searched out these letters to write the powerful story of one of America’s most extraordinary families, a family that helped shape the course of American history in dramatic and decisive ways…By the final pages of this volume, one feels deeply attached to the individual Lowells, while also exhilarated at having experienced this grand sweep of American history.“
“[Sankovitch’s] skillful blending of context and detail makes the vicissitudes of one family emblematic of a nation’s,” proclaimed The New Yorker.
The Connecticut Post called it, “an astonishingly compact 328 pages (considering how much family history it covers) and reads like a fine novel. You might be reminded of one of those deep digs into history and storytelling that James Michener used to do in his novels “Hawaii” and “Chesapeake.”
“A fascinating collective biography … paying tribute to both worthy individuals and everyone else in this prominent, complicated family,” said Booklist.
The Library Journal also recommended The Lowells of Massachusetts: “Sankovitch’s use of interpretative passages breathe color into descriptions of home life of various Lowells, adding an artistic dimension to the account. Her ability to switch the focus among the family members while keeping readers fully engaged in the narrative is a significant achievement.”
“A sturdy, busy multibiography of an eminent American family… Exhaustive work by a clear admirer and dogged researcher,” said Kirkus Reviews.