Gail Sheehy

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gail Sheehy 1937-

American nonfiction writer, journalist, biographer, and novelist.

The following entry presents an overview of Sheehy's career through 2000.

Sheehy is best known for her popular series of books that examine the psychology of aging and the major stages of transition in adult life. She established her writing credentials with the best-selling Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (1976), in which she argues that adults pass through four distinct phases during their lifelong maturation. Subsequent books in the Passages series explore such topics as menopause, male aging, and changing social perceptions of the aging process. Sheehy has also attracted attention for her biographies and character studies of major twentieth-century politicians and political candidates, such as Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in The Man Who Changed the World: The Lives of Mikhail S. Gorbachev (1991) and U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton in Hillary's Choice (1999).

Biographical Information

Sheehy was born on November 15, 1937, in Mamaroneck, New York, to Harold and Lillian Merritt. She graduated from the University of Vermont in 1958, earning her bachelor's degree. In 1960 she married Albert Sheehy, whom she divorced in 1968. She later married Clay Felker, a journalist. Sheehy has two children, one daughter from her first marriage and a second adopted daughter from Cambodia. She received a fellowship to attend graduate school at Columbia University in 1970, where she studied under noted anthropologist Margaret Mead. Sheehy began working as a journalist and freelance writer during the early 1960s, serving as fashion editor for Democrat and Chronicle from 1961 to 1963, feature writer for the New York Herald Tribune from 1963 to 1966, and contributing editor to New York Magazine from 1968 to 1977. Sheehy additionally worked as a contributing political editor to Vanity Fair and contributed articles to such magazines as Cosmopolitan, McCall's, Glamour, London Sunday Telegraph, Paris Match, and New York Times Magazine. She has won several awards and accolades, including the National Magazine Award for reporting excellence in 1972, the Penny-Missouri Journalism Award in 1986, and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Spirit of Survival (1986). She is also a seven-time recipient of the New York Newswomen's Club Front Page Award for distinguished journalism.

Major Works

Passages is the first in Sheehy's series of commercially successful nonfiction works that trace the psychology of the various stages of development in adult life. Sheehy draws on the theories of psychologist Erik Erikson to chart four separate periods of crisis in adulthood, marking transition points between each distinct stage of development. She terms these stages “pulling up roots,” “the trying twenties,” “passage to the thirties,” and “the deadline decade.” By identifying the major emotional and social changes that men and women typically encounter as they enter middle age, Sheehy argues that individuals need to confront these milestones and persevere past them to grow as human beings. Passages uses several case studies to illuminate its central argument and also incorporates research studies from a range of experts, including Yale psychologist Daniel Levinson, Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant, U.C.L.A. psychiatrist Roger Gould, and Margaret Mead. In The Silent Passage: Menopause (1992) Sheehy focuses on the effect of menopause on the lives of middle-aged women. Sheehy asserts that menopause is one of the few remaining taboos in modern society and that women need to demystify its onset and approach the change positively. New Passages: Mapping Your Life across Time (1995) revisits many of Sheehy's conclusions from Passages in an effort to revise and update her ideas based on the social and cultural changes that took place during the two decades since the work's initial publication. Sheehy renames her stages of adult development, referring to them now as “provisional adulthood” (from age...

(The entire section is 1,429 words.)