Mary Travers by Mike Renshaw | Books in Review

Mike Renshaw was a close friend of the late Mary Travers and also is a Vietnam veteran. In Mary Travers: A Woman’s Words (CreateSpace, 222 pp., $18.99, paper), Renshaw has pulled together a wide variety of Travers’ writings and arranged them in a handsome volume.

The book is composed of newspaper columns, unpublished essays, speeches, stage monologues, poetry, and—for me most interestingly—interviews Travers conducted.

Renshaw writes that Mary Travers was America’s premier female folk voice in the 1960s. I would have said it was Joan Baez, but perhaps due to Travers being the Mary of Peter, Paul, and Mary, she reached a larger audience. Certainly Peter, Paul, and Mary sold a lot more records than Joan Baez did.

The book begins with a moving chapter on Lila, the maid who helped raise Mary Travers and who motivated much of her philosophy of social justice. This section of the book contains Travers’ strongest and most emotional writing.

Travers admitted to being a Luddite, and I enjoyed her rants against machines. Her commitments to civil rights, the women’s movement, and to world peace cannot be faulted.

There’s a great chapter on the difficulty of singing our National Anthem. The first verse, Travers wrote, “is passable poetry. You’d be embarrassed by the subsequent verses, which no one ever hears.”  She goes on to state that “our national anthem is a war song and in a way it’s sad that the song that represents our nation should perpetuate the glory of war.”   Perhaps she forgot that this is a country made by war.

My favorite part of the book is near the end: the full texts of interviews she did with Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, and Richie Havens. The interview with Dylan is one of the best I’ve ever read.

There is a lot more to praise in this book, including Travers’ moving piece on the death of her dog and a scary section about a visit to South Korea.

I believe that this book is mostly for fans of Travers and of Peter, Paul, and Mary. For them, it will not disappoint.

—David Willson

Bob Dylan, Donovan, and Mary Travers at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965

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