Call Me Phaedra

The Life and Times of Movement Lawyer Fay Stender

Non-Fiction - Biography
502 Pages
Reviewed on 07/29/2018
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Author Biography

I am a former trial lawyer and retired judge and have lived for my adult life in the Bay Area where Fay Stender grew up and practiced law. I grew interested in her achievements after her death when an annual award started being given out in her name by California Women Lawyers on whose board I served. (She was on its first elected board). When the first woman chief judge of our district told me that Fay Stender deserved to be recognized for her outstanding trial work as much as top male lawyers, I decided to research and write about her career, the obstacles she faced and the phenomenal inroads she achieved in changing an unfair justice system.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Divine Zape for Readers' Favorite

Call Me Phaedra: The Life and Times of Movement Lawyer Fay Stender by Lise Pearlman is a spellbinding biography of an unflagging woman, a powerful lawyer whose contribution helped in shaping the societal conscience of her time, from the McCarthy Era until the '70s. Fay Stender put aside the concert piano to become an advocate for change, taking up the mission to defend the most controversial and notorious criminals of her time. Follow her impassioned presence in the courtroom in cases like the death penalty trial of Black Panther Party leader Huey Newton and through a life punctuated by protest marches, riots, assassinations, police brutality and more. But then an ex-felon invaded her home in 1979, shot her, and left her crippled.

This is a well-researched, beautifully written biography of one woman’s courage and her incredible journey to challenging the status quo, following her vision, and fighting for justice. Lise Pearlman seems to write from an intimate position, exploring the soul of the protagonist through the challenging and turbulent times in US history. The author weaves powerful political, cultural, and social elements into the setting, transporting readers to a revolutionary period. The writing is evocative, infused with a singular, irresistible charm. Lise Pearlman is a great biographer and storyteller who allows history and social issues to come out through the story. While Call Me Phaedra: The Life and Times of Movement Lawyer Fay Stender tells the story of an icon, it revisits the mutations within the judicial system, the reforms in the penitentiary system, and a lot more. It’s both entertaining and informative.

Renee Guill

Call Me Phaedra: The Life and Times of Movement Lawyer Fay Stender by Lise Pearlman. Lise Pearlman tells us who Ms. Stender is, a famous movement lawyer from the McCarthy era to 1970. She was a mother, wife, activist and lawyer, all while battling depression. She wanted to make a difference. She was shot in 1979 and somehow survived, then later she ended her life. Lise Pearlman describes Ms. Stender’s personal and professional life in great detail; the men that Ms. Stender dated; and how hard it was to be a female lawyer student in college. Pearlman even shows us how Ms. Stender battled depression and postpartum depression, all while going to school, and fighting for causes that were important to her like helping minorities.

I found Call Me Phaedra by Lise Pearlman to be a fascinating story. You learn things that you wouldn’t have in history class, which I love. I liked how Pearlman went into details about everything, including how hard it was for Ms. Stender to go to college. Pearlman also included photos with great details, which I found to be a nice personal touch. I’ve been battling depression my whole life, so it was nice to read a story about someone else who dealt with it. This wasn’t just a list of dates and trials. Lise Pearlman wrote a wonderful story. I am sure Ms. Stender would appreciate how her life story was told. Hopefully, people will learn something from this; I know I have. Never give up, no matter how hard things are is the lesson I learned.

K.C. Finn

Call Me Phaedra: The Life and Times of Movement Lawyer Fay Stender is a biographical work by award-winning author Lise Pearlman. The biography focuses on Fay Abrahams Stender, a highly successful Movement lawyer whose career took her through McCarthyism into the 1970s but ended in terrible tragedy. After making superb strides in social justice working in criminal defense and prison reform, Stender turned to women’s rights, but it is argued by Pearlman that Stender’s inability to fully overcome class and race led to her true downfall. After being shot with intent to kill in 1979, Stender was left wheelchair bound. The title of the biography refers to the Greek tragedy of Phaedra, with whom Stender identified before her suicide.

Lise Pearlman has done a stellar job of unveiling the life of a very powerful, forthright and determined woman without leaning to either side of a very thin fence. Fay Stender is presented with both her achievements and flaws, and an examination of her legal work by another highly trained professional gives brand new insight into just how difficult and demanding the work Stender did was. It was really interesting to see how the cases she took on connected to the social, political and economic climate of the wider world, as well as in the microcosm of the Bay Area, where author Lise Pearlman is from. Overall, Call Me Phaedra: The Life and Times of Movement Lawyer Fay Stender presents the full gamut of life’s joys and sorrows through a critical lens: a fascinating snapshot of real history.