Rediscover: The Road from Coorain

Jill Ker Conway, an Australian-American author who was also the first woman president of Smith College, died on June 1 at age 83. She was born on a 32,000-acre sheep ranch deep in the Australian outback, with little company growing up except her parents, brothers and a teacher. The ranch, called Coorain (an Aboriginal word for windy place), prospered until a seven-year drought. When Conway was 11, her father drowned while attempting to expand Coorain's irrigation system. After a further three years of drought, Conway's mother moved the family to Sydney, where Jill struggled to integrate with her new peers. She went on to graduate from the University of Sydney and moved to the United States in 1960. She received a Ph.D. from Harvard, met a Canadian professor who later became her husband, and taught at the University of Toronto from 1964 to 1975. Conway was the president of Smith College from 1975 to 1985, and thereafter a visiting professor at MIT.

Conway's writing career began with the publication of her first memoir, The Road from Coorain, in 1989. It tracks her early life in the outback and her moves to Sydney and the U.S. Her second memoir, True North (1994), follows Conway's time teaching in Toronto. She also wrote A Woman's Education (2001) and When Memory Speaks: Reflections on Autobiography (1998), and was the editor of several books, including Written by Herself: Autobiographies of American Women (1992) and In Her Own Words: Women's Memoirs from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States (1999). She received a National Humanities Medal in 2013. The Road from Coorain was last published in 1990 by Vintage Departures ($15.95, 9780679724360). --Tobias Mutter

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