Portrait of Brenda Wineapple image copyright Elena Seibert

Born in Boston and raised in northern Massachusetts (on the New Hampshire border), Brenda has lived in New York City for many years with her husband, the composer Michael Dellaira.

There, she does her writing, and most recently, in Keeping the Faith, she has delved into a single momentous event in American history, a trial momentous in its own time, important in ours, but largely unknown, forgotten, or belittled.

Keeping the Faith: God, Democracy, and the Trial that Riveted a Nation, is, like her last book, The Impeachers, about a trial. For trials are inherently dramatic, and the Scopes trial, like the trial to impeach and convict President Andrew Johnson, dramatized real, burning questions that reflect something fundamental about what it means to be an American and to live in a democracy.

When writing, she says she begins with a question that she feels hasn't been answered in a way that satisfies her—or hasn't been asked at all. For instance, she chose to write about the first-ever impeachment of an American president because she couldn't believe that it was as inconsequential as she, like many of us, was taught that it was.

Or, in Sister Brother, she says she wanted to know how it could be that Gertrude and Leo Stein, brother and sister, were inseparable for 40 years, during which they amassed an incredible collection of art but could split apart and never talk to one another again.In White Heat, she says she wanted to understand the close friendship between the great poet Emily Dickinson and the Civil War colonel and longtime abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and why that friendship hadn't been taken seriously by historians or poets.

And in Keeping the Faith, she asks why, among other things, did the trial attract large-than-life and celebrated figures who felt called to battle: the famous or infamous lawyer Clarence Darrow, who argued on behalf of rationality and science, and the famous William Jennings Bryan, a three-time nominee for the US presidency, and now a fundamentalist, who said he'd duel to the death on behalf of Christianity.How did we get there?

“Propulsive,” Ken Burns said of Keeping the Faith. “With her vivid portraits of Darrow and Bryan, its jousting antagonists,” Drew Gilpin Faust wrote, “her book speaks chillingly to the present as well as she recounts a battle about science, religion, truth and freedom of thought that seems much closer than a century ago.” And as Evan Thomas notes, “’Democracy was on trial,’ Wineapple writes, —then as now. A master of historical narrative, she has given us a bracing and illuminating tale for our own troubled times.”

In 2023, Brenda was named a Fellow at the Dorothy B. and Lewis Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, and she’s received other such numerous honors as a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, three National Endowment Fellowships in the Humanities, including its Public Scholars Award. She’s an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Society of American Historians, and her work regularly appears in The New York Times Book Review and The New York Review of Books.