For those of us involved since the early 80s, Andrea Boroff Eagan looms large as the founding mother of the National Writers Union. “If Andrea Eagan hadn’t initiated the organizing of the National Writers Union, I don’t think there would be one yet,” says Barbara Raskin, novelist and first president of the organizing committee for the NWU. “She was always inspirational, organized, calm, and a wonderful, funny friend.”
Months before the American Writers Congress sponsored by the Nation Institute in October, 1981, Andrea and a few others were cooking up the idea of a writers union. At the congress, the union session flooded the meeting room and had to be held in a lobby.
“When hundreds of people showed up for this meeting, we realized that this union idea had captured the commitment of a lot of writers,” said John Dinges, author, NPR managing editor, and an early NWU board member. ”Over 750 people signed up at the conference and gave money. That gave the union a nest egg to plan for the Princeton meeting in May 1982.”
At Princeton, writers from organizing groups in Boston, New York, Washington, San Francisco, and half a dozen other cities met to thrash out issues of membership criteria, how freelancers could be organized, and what a union meant. After extended negotiations among bristling factions, the group committed to a constitutional convention a year later: Barbara was elected president and Andrea, secretary-treasurer. When the constitution was approved at a national convention in Brooklyn in spring 1983, officially forming the NWU, Andrea was elected president.
During her two terms, 1983-87, the union struggled to grow from a collection of feisty individuals into an organization aimed at uniting a larger arena of writers into a powerful force.
“Andrea was clearly the choice for president because she had been so energetic in pulling things together,’ Dinges said. ”Her doggedness was amazing; she just kept at it. A new organization only exists in the energy people put into it, and if people step back, there’s nothing there. She was always on the phone, writing proposals or letters, keeping in touch with locals, making sure people like me and [author and NPR reporter] Frank Browning kept our eye on the ball, too.” Andrea’s glue held the union together in the early days when ideas and egos collided regularly and fundamental issues were hard fought.
Beyond her union involvements, Andrea was an active journalist writing about women and health for publications from Vogue to the Village Voice. She was editor of the National Women’s Health Network for Pantheon Books and author of Why Am I So Miserable, If These Are the Best Year of my Life? (1976) and The Newborn Mother: Stages of Her Growth (1985). A political activist and a 1969 Columbia University graduate, she and her husband Richard exchanged vows, famously, in the midst of the 1968 student takeover.
She was 49 when she died of cancer in 1993. Here’s a link to her obituary in the NY Times.