A Not So Simple Herstory: Creating Historical Fiction


Aviva Vic Maxon ’24 
Staff Writer 

Scripps Presents welcomed back alumna Jocelyn Kuritsky ’04 and her podcast A Simple Herstory to Balch Auditorium on March 21. Joined by writer Jonathan Goldberg and producer Jennifer Hall, Kuritsky detailed the process of creating the historical fiction podcast, which follows the stories of women who have run for United States President.

The event began with a presentation before transitioning into a Q&A. During the presentation,  Kuritsky, Goldberg, and Hall discussed many of the artistic choices they made in the podcast, such as only casting women, no matter the gender of the character. They expressed a desire to push the audience to contextualize why people generally prefer a man’s voice over a woman’s. 

“[Historical fiction is] about using the past to comment on our present,” Goldberg said. “We write the past to communicate our feelings of the present.” 

Further expansion on the recording process revealed that the first season was recorded live over Zoom during the pandemic, so the actors could respond in time to each other. The trio also discussed the ability to have more varied casting in an audio format than in other theater mediums, because the actors are not seen. 

One of the main themes of the podcast is the complexity of history and people. The story is not told linearly, advocating for an understanding of history that does not need to be linear. In that same vein, the story of Victoria Woodhouse, the focus of the first season, is full of contradictions. 

Woodhouse ran for president before women could vote, and she was not old enough to run. She announced her running mate as Frederick Douglass, without his permission; Woodhouse advocated ‘free love’ and eugenics and published the first English version of the The Communist Manifesto but was publicly denounced by Karl Marx. 

All this messiness lends Woodhouse as an ideal character to gain an understanding of our modern context; like so many figures today, Woodhouse is complicated and there is no single narrative about her that is true. Instead, there are many contradictory narratives that all contain truths. 

With so much to juggle, Goldberg also shared his process of writing historical fiction. His biggest suggestion to young Scripps students: read, and then read some more about the topic or person, then forget things, then write, and start with reading again. 

He argued that this repetitive process will bring to light the things that are most important to a writer and the elements of the story that are most striking. Everyone can tell the same story differently. 

Similarly, Kuritsky noted that she is a person in the present day trying to make a clear narrative about her characters from the past, and is constantly starting over. She employs the narrative tool of going in circles to help illustrate how we understand history. 

The podcasters emphasized the necessity of making tough choices in creating art. Goldberg and Kuritsky discussed grappling with questions about narrative: who is allowed to create the narrative and who is included in the narrative? These questions are reflected in the podcast’s two core themes: ‘what is truth’ and ‘who is telling the truth.’ 

They were intentional about choosing to have the character of Susan B. Anthony played by a trans woman in the show. Anthony, a prominent suffragette, has been taken as a symbol for white, cisgender, heterosexual women fighting against racial, sexual, and gender-non-conforming inclusion. By having this character portrayed by a trans person, the show is changing the narrative around what Anthony’s legacy could be.  

One person cannot be summarized easily in one podcast episode. The guests expressed that retelling someone’s story from many directions helps uncover many truths. It pushes people to have difficult conversations and develop an understanding of how views change as people evolve. 

Over time, history is smoothed and simplified to create a clear(er) divide between good and bad. In grappling with the complexities of important historical figures such as Woodhouse and Anthony, the podcasters reveal it’s not so simple.

Photo Courtesy of Aviva Maxon ’24

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