Salamon crafts brilliant bio of Wasserstein

‘Wendy and the Lost Boys’ by Julie Salamon


For three years, Julie Salamon studied the life of Wendy Wasserstein, the playwright who won both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. Salamon read about Wasserstein, perused her private journals and letters and talked to more than 300 people who had known her.

“I drove my family crazy,” says Salamon, 58. “They heard me talk about her over and over.”

The result is the rich and fulfilling “Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein” (Penguin, $29.95), a portrait of a brilliant, confident woman with a warm, open smile that often masked inner self-doubt and conflict. Salamon respectfully examines both sides of Wasserstein, who died in 2006 at the age of 55 from complications of lymphoma. “Her complexity drew me to the project,” says Salamon, who spoke while on a book tour in San Francisco.

Salamon is the author of several award-winning books, including “Hospital,” “Facing the Wind,” “The Net of Dreams,” “The Christmas Tree,” “Rambam’s Ladder” and “The Devil’s Candy.” A former film critic for the Wall Street Journal and former culture writer for the New York Times, Salamon’s work also has appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Bazaar, and The New Republic. She lives in New York City with her husband, Bill Abram (a former St. Louisan and Ladue Horton Watkins graduate) and their two children.


“Just after I had finished the tour for my last book, my editor asked if I would like to do this book,” recalls Salamon. “I was about to go on vacation in Maine, ready to rest.

My first reaction was that I wasn’t sure.” Salamon did some preliminary research. When she read Frank Rich’s memory piece about Wasserstein in the New York Times Magazine, Salamon became intrigued.

“It was just a couple of paragraphs, about Wendy being such a public person, yet when she died, many of her closest friends felt betrayed because they had not known that she was gravely ill,” says Salamon. “I remember thinking, ‘This is interesting.’ What I loved was that she was so secretive, and I began trying to deconstruct a person who was a writer – one who wrote about herself in layers within layers.”

One early concern of Salamon’s was the book’s intended audience. Wasserstein’s plays include “Uncommon Women and Others,” “The Heidi Chronicles,” “The Sisters Rosensweig” and “An American Daughter” The plays are frequently produced, all around the country. “I knew interest in the book would be broader than the New York theater audience, but few playwrights become household names,” Salamon says. “I discovered that Wendy Wasserstein is one of those playwrights.”

Wasserstein wrote personal essays for a number of national publications and she routinely made the rounds of the talk shows. Over the years, she appeared on Charlie Rose’s program more than any other guest. Many people, Salamon learned, know Wasserstein’s name, her plays – and even that late in life she gave birth to a daughter.

While researching the book, whenever Salamon told people what she was working on, she says she got one of two responses: “Wendy who?” or “How is her little girl?” Salamon notes that the second comment invariably came from people who had never known Wasserstein. (Lucie Jane, now 12, is just fine, says Salamon.)

“Wendy and the Lost Boys” was published late in August, and Salamon says the response has been “immediate, mind-blowing and fun.” The New Yorker notes, “In a sense, Salamon’s voice is like that of a Wasserstein character, a late-night girlfriend who tells you the truth, but confidentially, and sideways.” In this newspaper, editor Ellen Futterman wrote, “What Salamon has crafted is a revealing, sometimes funny, often moving story of a first-generation American Jewish woman.” (For more reviews, see

“Wendy Wasserstein was a great subject, and the opportunity to do this book was a gift,” says Salamon. “When I come to the Jewish Book Festival, I want to talk about how profound is was for me to look at how somebody created a life for herself that was meaningful and that became meaningful to so many other people,” she adds.

“In a very real personal way, this is an artist who allowed her audience to find a way to think about their own lives in ways they had not before. Wendy spoke directly to her audience, and gave them the gift of recognition.”

Julie Salamon

BOOK: “Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein”

SESSION: 10:30 a.m. Nov. 15