If there were a fan club for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg LAW’59, the most senior member of the U.S. Supreme Court’s liberal wing, it’s a good bet that Shana Knizhnik ’10 would be a candidate for its presidency.
Two years ago, Knizhnik created the Notorious R.B.G. blog (notoriousrbg.tumblr.com), which celebrates the almost-83-yearold justice with photos, memes, fan art, quotes and links to recent articles involving Ginsburg. The blog — whose name is a tongue-in-cheek nod to The Notorious B.I.G., the rapper who died in 1997 — took off, with a quarter of a million visitors in its first year.
Now the blog is the starting point of a new biography of the justice, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Dey Street/William Morrow Publishers, $19.99), co-authored by Knizhnik and MSNBC reporter Irin Carmon.
Knizhnik says the goal was to create a book that has the album-like feel of the blog and the substance of a biography. The finished product takes readers through Ginsburg’s life, from growing up in Brooklyn to her work on the Supreme Court. It includes annotated excerpts of important opinions she has written as well as professional and personal photos (including one in which she’s white-water rafting), images of papers from her archives and even her workout, which includes the elliptical, planks and one-legged squats.
“The hope is that people take the message — the inspiring story of Justice Ginsburg’s life — and are able to bring that to their own lives in some way,” Knizhnik says.
Knizhnik’s road to authorship began in summer 2013. A political science major at the College, she had just finished her first year of law school at NYU and was paying attention to the news out of the Supreme Court, which finishes its term in June.
She says she was disappointed with a number of the court’s decisions from the end of that term, particularly Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a law enacted to combat discrimination in voting. The only bright spot, Knizhnik says, was the outrage of Ginsburg, who wrote that throwing out that portion of the Voting Rights Act was like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” On Facebook, a friend of Knizhnik’s jokingly called the justice “Notorious R.B.G.” Inspired, Knizhnik decided to start a Tumblr blog with that name.
“I felt like there needed to be a space to celebrate this amazing person who has done so much for us as a nation,” Knizhnik says.
In 2014, the blog earned Knizhnik an invitation to Washington, D.C., to meet Ginsburg, who has said her grandchildren love the blog and that she tries “to keep abreast” of its posts. When Knizhnik met Ginsburg in her chambers, the justice was recovering from surgery but said she had a message for the blog’s followers: “I’ll be back doing push-ups next week.”
Around the same time, in the fall of her third and final year of law school, Knizhnik was approached by a HarperCollins editor, Julia Cheiffetz BC’00, about using the blog as a jumping-off point for a book. Although she says she never envisioned herself as a book author, Knizhnik was excited by the prospect and asked if she could be paired with a co-author. Cheiffetz suggested Carmon, who, it turns out, lived a few blocks away from Knizhnik in Brooklyn.
The two have described their pairing as an “arranged marriage” that became a “happy partnership.”
It took about a year for the two to finish the book, which came out the same day in October that Knizhnik learned she had passed the New York bar.
As of January 31, the book had been on The New York Times’ bestseller list for seven weeks. Knizhnik and Carmon have been interviewed about the book for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, NPR and MSNBC, where they did Ginsburg’s workout with her personal trainer (while wearing Notorious R.B.G. T-shirts, of course).
Knizhnik has been juggling appearances and interviews for the book with her day job as a law clerk for a federal appeals court judge in her hometown, Philadelphia, and hopes to become a public defender. As for future writing projects for the co-authors, Carmon says many exciting opportunities have come about as a result of the book, but it’s too soon to talk specifics. “We are just now starting to catch our breath and think about what’s next,” she says.
Jessica Gresko ’05 works in Washington, D.C.
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