LADY ROMEO: The Radical, Revolutionary Life of Charlotte Cushman, America’s First Celebrity (Avid Reader Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, July 7, 2020).

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For fans of Book of Ages and American Eve, this illuminating and enthralling biography of 19th-century queer actress Charlotte Cushman portrays her radical life that riveted New York City and made headlines across America.

From the very beginning, she was a radical. At age nineteen, Charlotte Cushman, America’s beloved actress and the country’s first true celebrity, left her life behind to make it as a Shakespearean actress. After revolutionizing the role of Lady Macbeth in front of many adoring fans, she went on the road, performing in cities across a dividing America and building her fame. She was everywhere. And yet, her name has faded in the shadows of history.

Now, for the first time in decades, Cushman’s story comes to full and brilliant life in this definitive, exhilarating, and enlightening biography of the 19th-century icon. With rarely seen letters, Wojczuk reconstructs the formative years of Cushman’s life, set against the excitement and drama of New York City in the 1800s, featuring a cast of luminaries and revolutionaries that changed the cultural landscape of America forever.

A vivid portrait of an astonishing and uniquely American life, Lady Romeo reveals one of the most remarkable women in United States history, and restores her to the center stage where she belongs.


“She left Louisa May Alcott stage-struck.  She shocked Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She failed to impress Queen Victoria.  She charmed Abraham Lincoln. And she made Henry James feel he had heard Shakespeare as he never would again.  Once the empress of the stage, the indomitable 19th century superstar Charlotte Cushman has been lost to us. Tana Wojczuk here resurrects her, charisma and originality intact.  A brisk, beautifully crafted life of a pioneering actor who — on and off the stage — indeed seems to have been, as Wojczuk puts it, ‘a better man than most men.'”

—Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Cleopatra

“Tana Wojczuk’s method in Lady Romeo is simple and dazzling. Chapter by chapter, she paints the past with words, and the reader is effortlessly drawn into a forgotten world.”

— Jonathan Lethem

“I’ve been waiting for a very long time for such an illuminating appraisal of Charlotte Cushman, a major and undervalued figure in nineteenth-century America. What Tana Wojczuk accomplishes here is thrilling.  She has a strong grasp of the theatrical culture, the fraught historical times, and the gender issues of Jacksonian America that shaped Cushman’s pathbreaking (and nearly forgotten) career. This is a timely book and will be valued by anyone interested in the life and times of a defining figure in American culture.”

—James Shapiro, author of The Year of Lear and Contested Will

Lady Romeo is a magnificent portrait of Charlotte Cushman, a woman whose name I had never known, and now will never forget. Tana Wojczuk tells the story of this remarkable life in a sensuous, smart, and very real way, that had me uttering ‘Wow’ out loud every page I turned. By the end, I was deeply in love with Charlotte, and know that readers will be, too.”

Molly Schiot, author of Game Changers and creator of “The Unsung Heroines”


“She seems to identify herself so completely with the character she is playing. . . genius.”

Walt Whitman in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1846

“Saw Charlotte Cushman and had a stage-struck fit.”

Louisa May Alcott, in her diary, 1858

“The greatest living actress.”

Boston Academy of Music, 1860

“We are very much in the habit of calling those great who have no other qualification for the epithet than the negative one of being not quite so little as others. . . . Charlotte Saunders Cushman was great in the other and in the complete sense. . . . She was but an actress; yet there was hardly a hearthstone among the English-speaking families of the world where her name was not a household word.”

The New York Times, 1876