Tuesday, October 29, 2019 by
Written by Elizabeth Winthrop in 1979, Marathon Miranda is the story of Miranda, a 12 year old who lives in on West 88th Street and Riverside Drive. She and her older brother Alex live with their parents in an apartment overlooking the Hudson River with a view north to the George Washington Bridge. According to Miranda, this place, “the city right at your back door but you don’t have to look at it” (p. 35). Her whole family watches and logs the ships that sail up and down the Hudson River.
Miranda’s community is built around her apartment building and surrounding neighborhood. Counter to the prevailing stereotype of the time, not only does Miranda know her neighbors, one of them, Margaret, is a surrogate grandmother to her. Margaret takes Miranda on trips to cultural institutions all over the city, like the Bronx Zoo, which is currently one of several members of the city’s Cultural Institutions Group, and is featured in the Museum’s current exhibition Cultivating Culture: 34 Institutions that Changed New York, until February 9.
While walking her dog, Miranda meets another girl her age, Phoebe, who lives in the apartment building across the street. Phoebe walks a neighbor’s dog, and much of the book takes place with the girls in the park. They babysit there, and spend time at the fountain above the boat basin. Phoebe eventually convinces Miranda, who has asthma and hates exercise, to take up jogging. The book picks up on the jogging craze in the 1970s, characterized by “special bright blue sneakers and forty-dollar running outfits” (p. 34).
Although some of the most dramatic portions of the book take place outside of New York, while the girls are spending the summer in Vermont and Connecticut, the parts that do take place in the city are very evocative of the time—from rummage sales to the excessively talkative “crazy ladies” on the bus.
And of course, in the end, Miranda and Phoebe successfully compete in a mini-marathon of 6.2 miles. While the book does not name their race, it almost certainly refers to the L’Eggs Mini Marathon. This was a women-only race around Central Park that took place in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time there were few races where women were welcomed, and fewer still which were only for women. The New York City Marathon was closed to women completely until 1972.
On that note, remember to cheer on all the runners in the New York Marathon on November 3rd! As Miranda says, “Every type here today…Shufflers, sweaters, waddlers, high-steppers, fast walkers, and the good old huffers and puffers.” (p. 39)