Authors: Gail Sheehy

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American journalist

Author Works


Speed Is the Essence, 1971

Panthermania: The Clash of Black Against Black in One American City, 1971

Hustling: Prostitution in Our Wide Open Society, 1973

Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, 1976

Pathfinders, 1981

Spirit of Survival, 1986

Character: America’s Search for Leadership, 1988

The Man Who Changed the World: The Lives of Mikhail S. Gorbachev, 1990

The Silent Passage: Menopause, 1992

New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time, 1995

Understanding Men’s Passages: Discovering the New Map of Men’s Lives, 1998

Hillary’s Choice, 1999

Long Fiction:

Lovesounds, 1970


Gail Sheehy (SHEE-hee), born Gail Henion, is a journalist and nonfiction writer who specializes in psychological biographies and studies of life span and developmental psychology. Born to Harold Merritt and Lillian Rainey Henion, Sheehy grew up and attended high school in Mamaroneck, New York. A 1958 graduate of the University of Vermont, she pursued a dual major in English and home economics. After college, her first employment was as a consumer representative for the J. C. Penney Company. In 1960, she married Albert Francis Sheehy, and they moved to Rochester, New York, where he attended medical school and she became the fashion editor for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Their daughter, Maura, was born during this time; later the family moved to New York City. Gail and Albert Sheehy divorced in 1969.{$I[A]Sheehy, Gail}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Sheehy, Gail}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Sheehy, Gail}{$I[tim]1937;Sheehy, Gail}

In New York City, Sheehy began an active career writing, first for the women’s department of the Herald Tribune and a few years later as a freelancer and contributing editor for New York magazine, where she met her second husband, Clay Felker, founder and editor of the magazine. In 1969-1970, she attended Columbia University on a fellowship, studying with anthropologist Margaret Mead. Sheehy’s first book, Lovesounds, appeared in 1970. It was followed in 1971 with two more: Speed Is the Essence and Panthermania, a study of the rise of the Black Panthers movement in New Haven, Connecticut, which received mixed reviews. Some critics praised her powerful reporting, while others noted the book’s confusing organization and faddish rhetoric. Continuing her studies of provocative topics, Sheehy wrote Hustling in 1973, a book that had started as a series of exposés in New York magazine. The book was controversial and hard-hitting, exposing to society the pornography palaces and their owners on New York City’s Forty-second Street.

Passages, published in 1976, propelled Sheehy into national prominence when it sold more than ten million copies and remained on The New York Times best-seller list for more than three years. Readers recognized themselves in “The Trying Twenties,” “The Catch Thirties,” “The Forlorn Forties,” and “The Refreshed (or Resigned) Fifties.” In this book, Sheehy first presented her unusual style of journalism that interwove 115 anecdotal case studies, a style that has been described as a psychobiographical approach. The storytelling style appealed to readers. The book also drew attention when psychologist Roger Gould, a pioneer in the new social science of adult development, claimed plagiarism of his work. It was his understanding that he was to be the coauthor of Passages. The case was settled out of court.

In 1981, Pathfinders succeeded Passages and also became a best-seller. Based on years of research, this book unfolded the stories of men and women who had confronted adversity, taken significant risks, and created new and fulfilling lives.

Sheehy successfully used the theme of passages in subsequent books, such as The Silent Passage in 1992, New Passages in 1995, and Understanding Men’s Passages in 1998. In New Passages, Sheehy extended her original study of adulthood that had ended with the fifties, an age beyond which earlier she could not imagine living. In the new book, she proclaimed that the stereotype of middle age was now obsolete, that there was another adulthood after age fifty. Her conclusion was that adults have the ability to customize their own life cycles. In Understanding Men’s Passages, she attempted to help men understand their life development, much in the way women had already been enlightened.

To underscore the resilience of Mohm, the twelve-year-old daughter she and lay Felker had adopted, Sheehy wrote the biographical Spirit of Survival in 1986. Mohm had lived through the regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia, during which her family was almost totally extinguished. In 1988, Sheehy wrote Character: America’s Search for Leadership, a series of biographical sketches of 1988 presidential candidates, including George H. W. Bush, Robert Dole, Al Gore, and Jesse Jackson. This book, with its theme of character as destiny, drew its share of attention with criticisms of psychobabble, simplicity, and inaccuracy of quoted material. This collection of biographical essays was followed in 1990 with a biography of Mikhail Gorbachev, titled The Man Who Changed the World. In 1999, at the height of the congressional investigation of Bill Clinton, Sheehy wrote Hillary’s Choice, an examination of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Clinton’s marriage and the challenging situations Hillary had encountered.

As a journalistic writer, Sheehy has six times received the Newswomen’s Club of New York Front Page Award for distinguished journalism. She has also received the National Magazine Award, the Penny-Missouri Journalism Award, and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. Sheehy became an editor of New York magazine, a contributing editor of Vanity Fair, reader of her books on tape, frequent lecturer, and author of essays that serve as forewords for new books about adult development and health issues.

BibliographyBronson, Tammy J. “Gail Sheehy: An Overview.” In Contemporary Popular Writers, edited by Dave Mote. Detroit: St. James Press, 1996. A concise entry on Sheehy.Jones, Anne Hudson. “Gail Sheehy.” In American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present, edited by Lina Mainiero. Vol. 4. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1982. A profile of Sheehy and her early works.Prose, Francine. Review of Hillary’s Choice, by Gail Sheehy. People 53, no. 1 (January 1, 2000): 41. A brief review that labels the book “dishy and satisfying.”Prose, Francine. Review of Understanding Men’s Passages, by Gail Sheehy. People 49, no. 19 (May 18, 1998): 45. A brief review defending the usefulness of Sheehy’s “exemplary bits of wisdom” against charges that the work is simplistic.
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