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OurShelves with special guest Justine Cowan

Justine Cowan

Justine Cowan


How can you be a strong woman in a world that’s not built for you?

Justine Cowan is an attorney used to fighting environmental cases against huge corporations but writing about her mother’s childhood in her first book, The Secret Life of Dorothy Soames led her to uncover a very different injustice. She joins Lucy Scholes to talk about finding mother figures in chosen families, rewriting history from new perspectives and how, as a female lawyer in the American South, she overcame barriers by taking courage from her heroes.


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On the nightstand – books that are currently on your bedside table

Following the launch of The Secret Life of Dorothy Soames, I’m busy making space for books related to my next project, which explores the highs and lows of being a female environmental lawyer in the American South. I recently read Memorial Drive, A Daughter’s Memoir, by Natasha Trethewey and revisited Praying for Sheetrock, by Melissa Fay Greene. Both take place in Georgia and reveal how the law can both protect and betray the most vulnerable members of society.

On your mind – a recent article, podcast, film, series or song

The essays in Fifty Shades of Feminism contain truths I wish I had been told as a young lawyer, that the legal profession contains “a lot of boring and profoundly wearying sexism” (Martha Spurrier), that “power correlates positively to likeability in men and negatively in women” (Isabel Hilton), and that “you will be called a bitch.” (Tahmima Anam)

On the shelf – one book that made you think about feminism in a new way

The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley was a gamechanger for me. I read it over thirty years ago and have trouble recalling specifics – but I remember with an unusual sharpness how the book made me feel as I experienced Arthurian legends told from the perspective of strong and intriguing women.

On the pedestal – tell us about one person (woman or non-binary) you admire

I met Madeleine Albright, who served as the first female U.S. Secretary of State, when I was in my early 20s as part of a program founded on the principle of women helping women climb the ladder of success. She stands as a symbol to me of the importance of women supporting other women.


Tune in next time for more conversation about books, feminism and culture.


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