Shaman’s Dream was the project that occupied Lu most during the last years of her life. Originally conceived as a documentary film, then a drama, a scholarly tome and finally emerging as creative non-fiction, this comprehensive account of the Modoc War took her to famous and obscure libraries and archives all over the country. Most of all, it captured her imagination as again and again she returned to the Lava Beds to camp, to hike that unforgiving terrain, and to recapture the thoughts and feelings of all the participants in that terrible tragedy.
A Modoc reader calls it “the best book on the Modoc War I have ever read.” To read the review:
Find the book here:
Shortly after retiring Lu underwent a serious stroke that, worst of all for an English scholar, damaged the verbal centers of her brain. She fought back. In the course of that struggle she wrote a novel. The title and subject of Queens Wild reflects two loves: the history of the West, and one of her favorite recreations, blackjack. I do not know if she had a relative named Hugh; Lucille McShane was her mother’s birth name.
From 1968-1970 Lu and I were lecturers at CSU Los Angeles, where we encountered the full diversity of the population of southern California. The GI bill brought us veterans of Viet Nam, the war brought those for whom the university was a haven from war, affirmative action brought many students for the first time from Watts and east L.A., the women’s movement brought women of all ages and backgrounds, the general nature of Los Angeles as a magnet for immigrants brought students whose first languages ranged from Laotian to Hungarian to indigenous dialects of southern Mexico. Our search for ways to help our students succeed in a freshman composition course brought us to Sophia Leshing.
A retired administrator in some of Los Angeles’ most challenging secondary schools, Sophia was one of the mentors who supported and inspired Lu throughout her early life and career. Herself an immigrant whose first language was Russian, she had a keen intellect, she knew more about English grammar than anyone I can think of, and she was inveterately motherly. We met at her house every few weeks for a year with a group of mostly African-American teachers to discuss the complicated issues we all faced. After a while we realized that what we and the world needed was a clear, easy-to-use self-help manual of English grammar and writing conventions, and four of us began work on it: Lu, Sophia, Elaine Levi—another friend of Lu and protégé of Sophia—and me. Before an initial draft could be completed Lu moved to The Hutchins School and I to CSU Fullerton. I soon realized that I was ill-adapted to committee work and co-authorship and asked to be relieved of co-authorship.
Help Yourself was the most financially successful of Lu’s publications. In the mid 80s she used the profits to treat herself to a mint-condition 1960s Cadillac convertible. Out of print now, copies are still advertised on-line, where one reviewer offers this testimonial: “I was given this as a textbook in 1988 and it completely changed my life. Knowing how to write well is a critical skill in all facets of the workplace. Help Yourself is step by step the best textbook on writing that I have ever known. So many graduate from college with a poor foundation for writing – this book will definitely help.”
Sculpture was a favorite medium for Lu; she liked the physical, tactile energy of working in three dimensions. This small bronze “Leda” was cast when she was still teaching at The Hutchins School.
“Censorship in the Victorian Drama,” Lu’s dissertation at the University of Southern California, has been cited many times. In the early 70s Yale University encouraged her to revise it for publication, but it did not have a high priority for her. It is difficult to find now, but can be located at the UC libraries of Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, CSU Fullerton, and the Niedersachsische Staats- und Universitatsbibliothek Gottingen in Germany.
Lu’s earliest publications were poems and short stories that appeared in the MSMC literary magazine, Westwords, in 1962 and 1963. I asked how she got the idea for the story “Buon Giorno,” and she said that it was based on something that happened when she was a kid during the war. Find her stories and poems in the issues to click on below.
This page was written by Helen Jaskoski