The Story of Project 1968 and an Announcement

Project 1968 by Laura Axelrod

I am finally getting around to updating my site. On the Media page, you will now find a full interview with me about Project 1968, a blog docu-novel I wrote some years back. Even though I took the site down, people still mention this story every now and then.

Like much of the writing I’ve done, Project 1968 started as a full-length play. I spent a year at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, researching 1968 – specifically the Democratic Convention. I also traveled to Chicago and researched it at the Chicago Historical Society and the National Archives at Chicago. My work was quite extensive. I must’ve photographed tens of thousands of documents and collected numerous out-of-print books.

The play, which was then called “War is Kind: The 1968 Democratic Convention,” followed three young women as they experienced 1968. It got one reading at Austin Script Works in 2005. I kept sending it out after that. Several agents looked at it. One was quite impressed but basically told me that I wasn’t in the pipeline so there wasn’t much she could do.

It was all very, very depressing back then. I definitely had the feeling I was writing something special and that it didn’t matter. Looking back, I think three young women experiencing 1968, written by a female playwright, was a bit of hard sell for gatekeepers in theater. But it was also capped by the deep sense that if only I were someone else, then those gatekeepers would be more open to my work. So there was an element of shame as well.

Knowing how theater was a dead-end, in 2008 I moved the story out of that form and created something new. I called it a blog docu-novel. Basically, it was a daily blog written in the voices of two of the three characters. They talked about what they saw, how they felt and things they learned. It was a challenge. One of the characters, Janine, traveled with the McCarthy campaign, so I included details about the places she went, TV shows she watched and the weather. Those details came from newspapers published in 1968.

On the site, I included interviews with people and news summaries. I also tried to review some books published in that era about the topics I was tackling: racism, sexism, poverty and the peace movement. As I worked out the story publicly in this new form, the characters and stories grew. So in a way, it all worked out. I wanted the opportunity to develop this story in theater. That couldn’t happen. So moving it to another form became a new way for me to work.

One of the strangest things about Project 1968 was the reaction once I moved it out of theater. We wrote press releases for it, but everyone knows press releases are often ignored. In this case, people were genuinely interested in what I was doing and how I was doing it. It was such a visceral shift. I was so invisible in theater but once I moved my work out of that world, people saw me. They read my writing and took it seriously.

So I’m pleased to tell you that for my book series, I’m going to expand Project 1968. As I told the interviewer, we are going to follow these characters and their families throughout history, all the way to the present time. I’ve been planning this series since 2010. It’s an expansive, sometimes overwhelming project. But since it includes most of what I’ve written for theater from 1992 to the present, much of my work is already done.

A few other notes: The title, War is Kind, came from the poem by Stephen Crane. The submission draft of the play I wrote was a bit unwieldy and complicated, which is why I needed readings so I could develop, simplify and sharpen it. Lastly, if you ever run into a roadblock like I did, remember you’re a creative being. Use your creativity to turn your perceived weaknesses into strengths.