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Obituaries

Barbara Raskin; Novelist Wrote About Female Friendships

July 25, 1999| From The Washington Post

Barbara Raskin, who wrote fast and funny novels about women in middle age and about the steamy political and social climate of Washington, died Friday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore of complications after surgery for a vascular disease. She was 63.

Raskin's most successful book was "Hot Flashes," a 1987 bestseller that reviewers said belonged to a significant new genre in American fiction, the celebration of female friendship.

Published two decades after the American women's movement began gathering steam and raising consciousness, "Hot Flashes" was hailed as a landmark novel, much as Mary McCarthy's "The Group" had defined the 1950s for women and Marilyn French's "The Women's Room" had defined the 1970s.

"Hot Flashes" follows three women who gather to mourn a writer friend who has died prematurely. Left behind is a journal that chronicles her despair when her husband left her for a younger woman and an unfinished autobiographical novel written for revenge that the friends salvage.

"Hot Flashes" was praised for having captured the feelings of a generation of well-educated, frustrated women who raised families while their husbands improved their careers.

Raskin said in an interview that the "hot flash" metaphor, evoking a discomfort of menopause, had "served me well. It worked as a symbol, a trigger for hot flashbacks, and a metaphysical reawakening as well."

In a 1987 profile in the Washington Post, writer Stephanie Mansfield said of Raskin: "Breathy, breezy, slightly befuddled, Raskin has become the Colette of the Correctol set. She is brilliant, neurotic, insecure, self-deprecating--all the requisite personality traits for a successful, if late-blooming, female novelist. She is also compulsive, the kind of woman who would make 900 tacos in her un-air-conditioned kitchen in July for her daughter's wedding reception."

Raskin's other books include "The National Anthem," an unflattering look at Washington during the Watergate investigations, "Loose Ends" and "Out of Order." She received a fiction award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982.

Raskin was active in freelance writers organizations that worked to protect and improve the lot of independent writers. In 1992, she was among a number of writers who organized a "Writers' Rights Day" in New York, urging writers to band together to defend themselves.

She was founding chair of the National Writers Union and a founder and president of the Washington Independent Writers. She wrote articles and book reviews for the Post, Washingtonian magazine, Washington Monthly, the Washington Star and the New Republic.

Raskin was born Barbara Bellman in Minneapolis. She sold her first short story when she was 12 to Seventeen magazine. She graduated from high school at 16 and the University of Minnesota 2 1/2 years later.

After receiving a master's degree in English from the University of Chicago, she worked part time as a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, while she pursued her master's degree. She finished her first novel when she was 21 and married fellow student Marcus Raskin. They moved to Washington in 1958.

Marcus Raskin was later an assistant to President John F. Kennedy's national security advisor, McGeorge Bundy. Barbara Raskin taught English at Georgetown, American and Catholic universities, studied toward a doctorate in literature and was a Senate speech writer.

Marcus Raskin left the White House and came out against the Vietnam War. The Raskins became known for their political activism, and their home was a meeting place for the civil rights and anti-war movements. Marcus Raskin was tried with Benjamin Spock in 1968 as a member of the "Boston Five" anti-war group. They were acquitted of anti-draft conspiracy charges.

She divorced Raskin in 1980. Her marriage to writer Anatole Shub also ended in divorce in the late '80s.

Survivors include three children from her first marriage, Erika Raskin Littlewood of Richmond, Va., Jamin Ben Raskin of Takoma Park, Md., and Noah Annan Raskin of Washington; a brother; and seven grandchildren.

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