Gail Henion

Start Your Free Trial

Download Gail Henion Study Guide

Subscribe Now


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Gail Sheehy (SHEE-hee), born Gail Henion, is a journalist and nonfiction writer who specializes in psychological biographies and studies of life span and developmental psychology. Born to Harold Merritt and Lillian Rainey Henion, Sheehy grew up and attended high school in Mamaroneck, New York. A 1958 graduate of the University of Vermont, she pursued a dual major in English and home economics. After college, her first employment was as a consumer representative for the J. C. Penney Company. In 1960, she married Albert Francis Sheehy, and they moved to Rochester, New York, where he attended medical school and she became the fashion editor for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Their daughter, Maura, was born during this time; later the family moved to New York City. Gail and Albert Sheehy divorced in 1969.

In New York City, Sheehy began an active career writing, first for the women’s department of the Herald Tribune and a few years later as a freelancer and contributing editor for New York magazine, where she met her second husband, Clay Felker, founder and editor of the magazine. In 1969-1970, she attended Columbia University on a fellowship, studying with anthropologist Margaret Mead. Sheehy’s first book, Lovesounds, appeared in 1970. It was followed in 1971 with two more: Speed Is the Essence and Panthermania, a study of the rise of the Black Panthers movement in New Haven, Connecticut, which received mixed reviews. Some critics praised her powerful reporting, while others noted the book’s confusing organization and faddish rhetoric. Continuing her studies of provocative topics, Sheehy wrote Hustling in 1973, a book that had started as a series of exposés in New York magazine. The book was controversial and hard-hitting, exposing to society the pornography palaces and their owners on New York City’s Forty-second Street.

Passages, published in 1976, propelled Sheehy into national prominence when it sold more than ten million copies and remained on The New York Times best-seller list for more than three years. Readers recognized themselves in “The Trying Twenties,” “The Catch Thirties,” “The Forlorn Forties,” and “The Refreshed (or Resigned) Fifties.” In this book, Sheehy first presented her unusual style of journalism that interwove 115 anecdotal case studies, a style that has been described as a psychobiographical approach. The storytelling style appealed to readers. The book also drew attention when psychologist Roger Gould, a pioneer in the new social science of adult development, claimed plagiarism of his work. It was his understanding that he was to be the coauthor of Passages. The case was settled out of court.

In 1981, Pathfinders succeeded Passages and also became a best-seller. Based on years of research, this book unfolded the stories of men and women who had confronted adversity, taken significant risks, and created new and fulfilling lives.

Sheehy successfully used the theme of passages in subsequent books, such as The Silent Passage in 1992, New Passages in 1995, and Understanding Men’s Passages in 1998. In New Passages , Sheehy extended her original study of adulthood that had ended with the fifties, an age beyond which earlier she could not imagine living. In the new book, she proclaimed that the stereotype of middle age was now obsolete, that there was another adulthood after age...

(The entire section is 794 words.)