Lady Romeo (Hardcover)

The Radical and Revolutionary Life of Charlotte Cushman, America's First Celebrity

By Tana Wojczuk

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster, 9781501199523, 240pp.

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Other Editions of This Title:
Compact Disc (7/7/2020)

List Price: 27.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


For fans of Book of Ages and American Eve, this illuminating and enthralling biography of 19th-century queer actress Charlotte Cushman portrays her radical lifestyle that riveted New York City and made headlines across America.

From the very beginning, she was a radical. At age nineteen, Charlotte Cushman, America’s beloved actress and the country’s first true celebrity, left her life—and countless suitors—behind to make it as a Shakespearean actress. After revolutionizing the role of Lady Macbeth in front of many adoring fans, she went on the road, performing in cities across a dividing America and building her fame. She was everywhere. And yet, her name has faded in the shadows of history.

Now, for the first time in decades, Cushman’s story comes to full and brilliant life in this definitive, exhilarating, and enlightening biography of the 19th-century icon. With rarely seen letters, Wojczuk reconstructs the formative years of Cushman’s life, set against the excitement and drama of New York City in the 1800s, featuring a cast of luminaries and revolutionaries that changed the cultural landscape of America forever.

A vivid portrait of an astonishing and uniquely American life, Lady Romeo reveals one of the most remarkable women in United States history, and restores her to the center stage where she belongs.

About the Author

Tana Wojczuk is a senior nonfiction editor at Guernica and teaches writing at New York University. Previously, she has worked as an arts critic for Vice, Bomb Magazine, and Paste and as a columnist for Guernica. Other essays, criticism, and poetry have appeared in in The New York TimesTin House, The Believer, Gulf Coast, Apogee, Lapham’s Quarterly, The Rumpus, Narrative, Opium Magazine, and elsewhere. Tana has an MFA in nonfiction from Columbia University where she formerly taught. She was recently a finalist for the Gulf Coast Nonfiction Prize and has been a fellow at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation residency and Tin House Summer Writers Workshop. Originally from Boulder, Colorado she now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Praise For Lady Romeo: The Radical and Revolutionary Life of Charlotte Cushman, America's First Celebrity

“She left Louisa May Alcott stage-struck. She shocked Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She failed to impress Queen Victoria. She charmed Abraham Lincoln. And she made Henry James feel he had heard Shakespeare as he never would again. Once the empress of the stage, the indomitable nineteenth-century superstar Charlotte Cushman has been lost to us.Tana Wojczuk resurrects her here, charisma and originality intact. A brisk, beautifully crafted life of a pioneering actor who—on and off the stage—indeed seems to have been, as Wojczuk puts it, ‘a better man than most men.’” —STACY SCHIFF, author of The Witches  

“I’ve been waiting for a very long time for such an illuminating appraisal of Charlotte Cushman, a major and undervalued figure in nineteenth-century America. What Tana Wojczuk accomplishes here is thrilling. This is a timely book and will be valued by anyone interested in the life and times of a defining figure in American culture.” —JAMES SHAPIRO, author of Shakespeare in a Divided America

Lady Romeo is a magnificent portrait of Charlotte Cushman, a woman whose name I had never known and now will never forget. Tana Wojczuk tells the story of this remarkable life in a sensuous, smart, and very real way that had me uttering ‘Wow’ out loud every page I turned. By the end, I was deeply in love with Charlotte, and I know that readers will be, too.” —MOLLY SCHIOT, author of Game Changers and creator of @TheUnsungHeroines

“Tana Wojczuk’s method in Lady Romeo is simple and dazzling. Chapter by chapter, she paints the past with words, and the reader is effortlessly drawn into a forgotten world.” —JONATHAN LETHEM

“Charlotte Cushman did not thrill just audiences. She thrilled her very surroundings. The wood of the theater’s seats and bannisters grew more solemn and still, the moonlight on the facade grew more silvery and remote, when she held forth as Lady Macbeth. Tana Wojczuk’s entertaining book tells the story of a great American actress.” —ALEXANDER NEMEROV, author of Acting in the Night: Macbeth and the Places of the Civil War

"In this engaging and entertaining biography, Wojczuk packs the narrative with well-chosen, vibrant details of Cushman’s life as she traveled and worked at a variety of theaters... Wojczuk successfully reinvigorates this significant 19th-century artist. An animated, refreshingly vivid biography of a woman who made the stage her home." —KIRKUS REVIEWS (Starred)

"A brisk and vivid biography of actor Charlotte Cushman (1816–1876), who captivated audiences while breaking 19th-century America’s strict gender rules... Wojczuk enriches her portrait with lively theater gossip and detailed discussions of 19th-century class, social, and gender codes. This enthralling history restores Cushman to her rightful place in the spotlight." —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY