Myra Dinnerstein
Myra Dinnerstein, the creative and practical force behind women's studies at the UA, retired last year. How does somebody who spent 28 years shaping a full-fledged, 11-member university department kick back? Getting department status at the UA--women's studies hit the big time in 1997--is a heroic achievement. But from its start in 1975, the program was pulling in big grants and spinning off a research institute, a community group that raises funds for scholarships and projects, a program to get girls and women into science and engineering, and a university-wide initiative to "improve the climate for women and minorities" on campus. And that's among other things. But to return to the topic of her kicking back: She's on a mission, and if you're in a book group, she wants to know about it. Read on.

You're a legend on campus.

You hang around long enough, (and) people get to know your name.

What's always struck us about you is that you've made so much happen, yet no one ever says a bad word about you. Anyone with power at the UA is automatically resented. How do you explain this?

First, I never had any power. Second, you just haven't talked to the right people. Besides, it was always groups of people coming together that got things done, never just me.

Obviously, not taking credit has something to do with your saintly rep. You will admit, though, that you were pretty much it at the beginning?

The first year, the program was me and a half-time student secretary.

Why did you retire?

My husband (Leonard Dinnerstein, a Judaic studies expert in the UA's history department) always said he'd know when it was time to quit. And one day, he was done. I was, too.

How are you liking your new life?

At first, I panicked. I'd been so used to overwork that I got a little hysterical at the thought of having nothing to do. I ran around to all these organizations begging for volunteer work. But sitting stuffing envelopes with Leonard one day, I realized that was not for me. Then I heard that people were talking about setting up an endowment for the Tucson-Pima Public Library. That's my sort of thing. My kids grew up at the library. I get everything I read at the Woods Branch: If they don't have it, they get it for you. I love the library.

Why does Tucson-Pima need an endowment?

It's not the library it was 20 years ago, is it? It used to be one of the best systems in the country for a city this size, but it's been so underfunded for so long. Literally, there are not as many books per patron on the shelves. And it's not just about the books: The branches are centers for communities. The Friends of the Tucson-Pima Library do a fantastic job, but the library needs an endowment.

So you're prowling for book groups.

Somebody had this great idea about reaching the people out there who care--find the book groups. If you're in a group or can give me a lead on one ...

I know of two.

(Taking out a notebook.) Give me someone to contact. We want to ask the groups' members to contribute as individuals. Very simple--just a white envelope. We're also going to ask for each group's three favorite books, then compile a list and give it out to all of them. It's an interesting project. No one knows how many groups there are in town. Each is its own little world.

Read any good books lately?

Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickle and Dimed, about what the lives of working poor are really like. Who thinks about how a hotel maid lives? It's an important book. But ask me who my favorite author is.


Jane Austen. I read about that novel about the Jane Austen book club and thought, "I must start that group!"

What else are you up to?

Campaigning for John Kerry, of course. And I'm a news junkie. Next month, we're going to China. Leonard was invited to a conference on Judaic studies there. He wasn't aware that there was Judaism in China, so that's sort of hilarious. We'll tour around. And I'm working on getting a dog. Every Saturday, I take Leonard to Petco and make him look at the Humane Society dogs. One of these days, he'll fall in love. I know it.

Anything else?

Movies. I cannot imagine life without movies, especially foreign films. Actually, could we just talk about movies?

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