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For Pulitzer Prize-winner Stacy Schiff, the truth is compelling

Stacy SchiffIN 2000, Stacy Schiff was in her ninth month of pregnancy and confined to bed rest when the telephone began ringing incessantly. Exhausted, she couldn’t be bothered.

After a few minutes, her close friend and novelist Elinor Lipman sent her a fax that read, “Happiest day of my life.”

“I called Elinor to see what was going on,” Schiff says from her office in New York City. “ ‘Haven’t you heard?’ she gasped.

“Elinor told me I won the Pulitzer Prize for my biography of Vera Nabokov.”

How did Schiff celebrate her stellar achievement?

“I had a baby a week later,” laughs this mother of three. “They gave me Percocet, a nice painkiller. And I got extra special attention in the hospital the whole week.”

Today, the acclaimed biographer is eager to set the record straight on her latest and most enigmatic subject — Cleopatra, the queen of grossly inaccurate historical, stage, screen and literary interpretations.

Cleopatra: A Life (2010) shines invaluable new light on a woman who died 2,000 years ago before the age of 40, yet still captivates our imagination.

Unlike Claudette Colbert, Vivien Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor, who portrayed her in films, Cleopatra had a hooked nose that would definitely preclude her appearing on the cover of Vogue.

Cleopatra was Greek by birth, not Egyptian. When she met Caesar, she used her intellect to secure an upper political hand against Rome. Her alleged seductive skills were convenient inventions.

Faced with a seemingly impossible task of constructing an authentic portrait of the legendary female ruler, Schiff discarded material that contained sexist or political agendas.

The rest of this article is available in the IJN’s print edition only. Contact Carol to order your copy at (303) 861-2234 or email

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IJN Senior Writer |

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