The Sixties in Black and White by Elisabeth Stevens

The Sixties in Black and White

Drawings by Elisabeth Stevens
written and illustrated by
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A debut book offers a collection of drawings from the artist’s time working at various magazines.

This collection begins with a four-page interview between Stevens and her daughter, Laura Schleussner, which reveals the artist/writer’s motivations and insights. Stevens lived in New York City in the early 1960s, working toward a Ph.D. in literature at Columbia University. She drew primarily for the magazines Challenge, The New Leader, and The National Review. This volume includes images depicting turbulent moments in U.S. history, like President John F. Kennedy’s funeral (1963) and the riots following the enrollment of the University of Mississippi’s first black student, James Meredith (1962). Stevens moved to Washington, D.C., in 1965, where she began writing for The Washington Post, eventually transitioning from artist to full-time writer. Following the interview are over 70 black-and-white illustrations—including a removable poster—featuring New Orleans jazz musicians, rural Mississippi and West Texas, industrial America, and striking unions. After the illustrations comes an article called “Death in the Mines” that Stevens wrote about the 1963 Dola, West Virginia, mining disaster for The New Leader. The article shows her artwork as it appeared alongside her grim reportage on the methane gas explosion, which implicated the Clinchfield Coal Company in the deaths of 22 men. Stevens’ collection should be of great interest to those not only fascinated by the 1960s, but also by the story of a woman who “did not want to be a sheltered housewife, like most of my friends from my class at Wellesley.” In the clarity of her voice in the interview, she portrays the struggle of succeeding in an era when most women were expected to toil as secretaries. She learned: “It isn’t enough to be rich. It isn’t enough to be famous. You have to know. You have to understand...and that can be a very hard lesson.” Stevens’ pen line of choice is bold, outlining building facades and strikers’ portraits alike. Most effective are the pieces textured by thinner lines, which lend them an iconic, stamplike quality.

These line drawings create a spirited monument to a rocky era in American history. 

Publisher: Goss Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:


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