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UA law professor Barbara Atwood received the college's Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1997. She's one of the original co-founders of Antigone Books, an occasional poet, and the author of A Courtroom of Her Own: The Life and Work of Judge Mary Anne Richey (UA Press). She's done pro bono work for a number of individuals and organizations, including Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona. She lives in Tucson with her husband Peter, and their son.
TW: WHAT WAS IT ABOUT JUDGE RICHEY THAT CAPTURED YOUR ATTENTION?
I worked for her when I graduated from law school in 1976. She'd just been appointed to the federal bench by President Ford--the only woman he appointed during his presidency. So I worked for her for two years as a judicial law clerk, and got to know her well, and her family, and a little bit about her history. At the time, I thought, "This woman is remarkable. Somebody ought to write her story down." I didn't think, ever, that I'd have either the time or the bravado to try to do it.
TW: WHAT MADE HER SO REMARKABLE?
Before she went to law school, she flew with the Women's Airforce Service Pilots, a group of civilian pilots hired by the United States Army to test-fly military planes for service in the war effort. They were the first women to fly military planes, although they were considered a civilian unit at that point. (Retroactively they were granted military status.) That was a unique group of pretty strong, brave women--there were only about 1,100 of them. That was characteristic of her--to seek out some way of performing a service to her community or her country, but in a manner not in keeping with what women were supposed to be doing.
She had a remarkable presence in this community, and elsewhere--but particularly she had a local impact. The book is primarily to preserve her story, but also it was an effort to understand what enabled her to break free of the sort of gender role limitations that seemed to affect so many other women of her generation. I don't know that I figured it out, but it was a real interesting process to study her life and interview her contemporaries about their recollections of her when she was the only woman in her law-school class at the mid-century mark (1951).
TW: YOU RIDE A LOT AROUND TOWN. WHAT'S THE BEST BIKE ROUTE?
When I have more time, I ride either on the Rillito or Santa Cruz parkway. Between Ajo and Valencia (on the Santa Cruz), there's a beautiful stretch that's being gradually improved with the planting of mesquite and palo verde trees. They're doing it as a memorial park, so that you can plant trees in memory of or to honor somebody who's living. That person's name is on a tile at various intervals along the bike route, and it's just really beautiful. It's pretty stark desert out there, but the more mature trees are helping that. So it's a really nice effort that's supported by community contributions. I really enjoy riding there.
TW: WHAT ASPECTS OF CITY LIFE DO YOU PARTICULARLY ENJOY?
One of my favorite parts of Tucson is the downtown area, even though it seems like it's forever trying to be revived. There are some really good galleries, and I like to walk along Congress Street and over to Broadway and Sixth Avenue. There's just a lot of really interesting artists in that general area--like at Dinnerware and the Central Arts Collective, which does interesting experimental sculpture and painting. The Etherton Gallery always has beautiful stuff; and I also like the Philabaum Gallery, over on South Sixth. It's a great place to take someone who's never seen glass-blowing in progress. (Tom Philabaum) is just such a talented artist. It's nice to go in there and watch him work. That kind of artistic creation--that's very much a piece of Tucson.
TW: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE LOCAL THEATRE SCENE?
There are a lot of small theatre groups in Tucson that attract artists who are so dedicated. They work for basically no pay, and sometimes there's not very much community interest. So I try to make a point of going to some of the productions of the very small theatres every year. I thought last year's Closetland, by the Upstairs Theatre Co., was a really interesting production: a very stark, intense performance that was, I think, uncomfortable for some of the members of the audience because the acting was so powerful; and the play itself is a really powerful piece. The actors in it were engaged in their role in a way that's kind of unusual for a small community theatre. (The play starred Carlisle Ellis and Clark Andreas Ray.)
TW: WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE HISTORY OF ANTIGONE?
Antigone is definitely one of my very favorite bookstores. Over the years it has expanded in such a great direction. (It celebrates its 25th anniversary this fall.) As it's passed from owner to owner, everyone has tried to adhere to the original goal of including really good literature about women and by women, and a really good selection of children's literature. It's a great store to walk into now, because they have a lot of non-book gift items that always seem of really high quality. And from the beginning, Antigone has offered readings of local authors, people passing through Tucson, and local would-be authors...It's became a kind of center of feminist discussion. It has always seemed to me like a lot more than just a bookstore.
TW: WHAT BEST EXEMPLIFIES TUCSON'S SENSE OF COMMUNITY?
I feel like I should tell you something about myself that actually is a major part of my life in the last two years. I had a young son who died two years ago, at the age of 10. When I think about what I like about Tucson, before his death so much of what I liked had to do with children. I had two children. And raising them here was a real plus because there are lots of child-friendly things to do in Tucson, including hiking around the periphery of Tucson. But his death is a reality that affects my whole outlook, basically, at this point.
There's an organization, a non-profit group, called Children to Children, that is a wonderful place for grieving children who have lost people particularly close to them, whether they're family members or friends. It's a place where the parent or whoever is caring for the grieving child goes, and there is a parent group that simultaneously occurs while the children meet. That was very helpful both for me and my husband, and for our son.
There's also a group called the Compassionate Friends, which is a support group that's completely structured by its members. There's no professional leader or facilitator, and it's particularly for bereaved parents. That's been just incredibly valuable. We've met some really brave, admirable people through that group.
And there are some nice things, like the Santa Cruz River Park that I was talking about. Some close friends of ours dedicated a tree in honor of our son, and his name is out there on a tile. And there's a really beautiful Palo Verde that is his tree. There's also a little peaceful place called Children's Memorial Park, out on the Rillito bike route. That's a special place as well, and our son's name is there.
There was an outpouring of support for us from our network of friends, which was great, but it was really nice to find these groups which were organized specifically for the kind of loss that we had gone through.