Literature Program

Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 7:00 p.m.


Hallwalls & Talking Leaves Books present

William Graebner

Patty's Got A Gun

It was a story so bizarre it defied belief: in April 1974, 20-year-old newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst robbed a San Francisco bank in the company of members of the Symbionese Liberation Army—who had kidnapped her a mere nine weeks earlier. But the robbery—and the spectacular 1976 trial that ended with Hearst's criminal conviction—seemed oddly appropriate to the troubled mood of the nation, an instant exemplar of a turbulent era.

With Patty's Got a Gun, the first substantial reconsideration of Patty Hearst's story in more than twenty-five years, William Graebner vividly re-creates the atmosphere of uncertainty and frustration of mid-1970s America. Drawing on copious media accounts of the robbery and trial—as well as cultural artifacts from glam rock to Invasion of the Body Snatchers—Graebner paints a compelling portrait of a nation confused and frightened by the upheavals of 1960s liberalism and beginning to tip over into what would become Reagan-era conservatism, with its invocations of individual responsibility and the heroic. Trapped in the middle of that shift, the affectless, zombie-like, "brainwashed" Patty Hearst was a ready-made symbol of all that seemed to have gone wrong with the sixties—the inevitable result, some said, of rampant permissiveness, feckless elitism, the loss of moral clarity, and feminism run amok.

By offering a fresh look at Patty Hearst and her trial—for the first time free from the agendas of the day, yet set fully in their cultural context—Patty's Got a Gun delivers a nuanced portrait of both an unforgettable moment and an entire era, one whose repercussions continue to be felt today.

Buffalo-based author and retired SUNY Fredonia History Professor William Graebner is the author of The Engineering of Consent: Democracy and Authority in Twentieth-Century America (1987); Coming of Age in Buffalo: Youth and Authority in the Postwar Era (1990); and The Age of Doubt: American Thought and Culture in the 1940s (1991), and editor of the collection, True Stories from the American Past (3rd Edition, 2002). He received the Frederic Jackson Turner Award from the Organization of American Historians for Coal-Mining Safety in the Progressive Period: The Political Economy of Reform. Another book, A History of Retirement: The Meaning and Function of an American Institution, 1885-1978, was published in 1980. In 1993, he was Fulbright Professor of American Studies at the University of Rome. He serves on the editorial boards of American Studies and SUNY Press, and has also served as a board member for both Hallwalls and Squeaky Wheel. Besides American culture in the 1970s, other current areas of study include western mining films and the Buffalo Skyway.

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March, 2009 - 2009