Jane Addams, a Writer's Life is an expansive, revealing, and refreshing reexamination of the renowned reformer as an imaginative writer. Jane Addams is best known for her groundbreaking social work at Hull-House, the force of her efforts toward Progressive political and social reform, and the bravery of her commitment to pacifism, for which she received the Nobel Peace Prize. Katherine Joslin moves beyond this history to present Addams as a literary figure, one whose writing employed a synthesis of fictional and analytical prose that appealed to a wide audience.
Joslin traces Addams's style from her early works, Philanthropy and Social Progress and her contributions to Hull House Maps and Papers, influenced by Florence Kelley, to her modernist and experimental last books, The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House and My Friend, Julia Lathrop, placing Addams in the context of other Chicago writers including Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, Harriet Monroe, Frank Norris and James T. Farrell. Joslin's close readings showcase Addams's distinguishing literary devices, such as using stories about people rather than sociological argument to make moral points. As Joslin pursues the argument that Addams's power as a public figure stemmed from the success of her books and essays, Addams herself emerges as a literary woman.