Soon after writing her New York Times best-seller, She Persisted, a picture book about 13 inspirational women, Chelsea Clinton began thinking about the remarkable women from around the world who had inspired her. Friends also chimed in with stories about remarkable women, and that lead to the companion book, She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History (Philomel Books, Penguin Random House, March 2018). The book features women including Viola Desmond, who helped start Canada’s civil rights movement, and “Sissi” Lima do Amor, who insisted on playing soccer despite girls being outlawed from the sport. We talked with Clinton about her sequel.
What does “she persisted” mean to you personally?
Persistence is a core part of life—to persist over and through obstacles to be the people we are called to be—with our family, our friends, our communities, through our personal relationships and our professional work. If we don’t keep going, if we do give up, we will never realize our full potential for our own lives or the world around us.
What do you see as the power behind these words?
The power behind the words “she persisted” are the stories of persistence—of Coretta Scott King’s persistence in standing up to Jeff Sessions more than three decades ago, of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s persistence in bringing Mrs. King’s words to the Senate and the country, even after she was told to be quiet, to all the stories I share in She Persisted and She Persisted Around the World, and all the other stories of persistence that I know in my life and I imagine you know in yours—those stories are what give the words such power and resonance.
How did you choose which women to include in this book?
For She Persisted, I remember when each of the women inspired me—when my grandmother told me about Hellen Keller, when I learned about Claudette Colvin in school, read Nellie Bly’s work in college, asked my doctor what the Apgar test was when I was pregnant, when I watched FloJo break the world records and was lucky enough to listen to Sally Ride speak when I was at Space Camp. I also wanted there to be a range of stories across different fields and throughout time—that was also important to me for She Persisted Around the World, as was feeling deeply inspired by each and every woman’s story.
Some of the women’s stories in She Persisted Around the World have long compelled me. I’ve looked up to Wangari Maathai for as long as I can remember, and I write about her Green Belt Movement work in It’s Your World. I remember watching Yuan Yuan Tan dance when I was at Stanford and when I first heard Leymah Gbowee speak about her courageous peace-making work. Some of the stories were recommended by other authors, readers, people in the Penguin Random House community. I am so thankful to be able to share Mary Verghese’s story about bringing functional rehabilitation medicine to India and Aisha Rateb’s story about fighting for equal rights and justice in Egypt—I didn’t know either of them until I started working on She Persisted Around the World and am so thankful that I now do. I hope others feel the same way after reading the book!