Doug Moe is a veritable literary machine, having written or edited over a dozen books and literally thousands of newspaper and magazine columns over the past 40 years.
Doug Moe’s latest book project began, like so many of his stories, with a message from a local resident familiar with his work – in this case, someone named Dale “Buzz” Nordeen. They knew the award-winning Moe was a veritable literary machine, having written or edited more than a dozen books and literally thousands of newspaper and magazine columns over the past 40 years (including monthly profiles and articles from near-weekly blogs for Madison Magazine, for which he also served as editor in the 1990s). Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss called Moe “Madison’s inimitable columnist,” but Moe is more humble than that. “I really can’t say I turned down a lot,” he laughs, hinting that he’s always needed the money. But it’s closer to the truth: Moe can’t say no to a gripping story.
This new story isn’t Nordeen’s, however, it’s his wife’s. Katherine “Kit” Saunders-Nordeen was the first director of women’s intercollegiate athletics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a pioneering force for the rights of female athletes nationally. When they enlisted Moe three years ago, Saunders-Nordeen was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Both have since died (he in 2019, she in 2021). “The Right Thing to Do: Kit Saunders-Nordeen and the Rise of Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of Wisconsin and Beyond” will be published in April by HenschelHAUS Publishing. It is dedicated to their memory.
“They had a pretty remarkable relationship, and Buzz was such an advocate for her,” Moe says. “He went to see her every day, even when she didn’t recognize him anymore, you know? So I think he wanted to pay homage to him.
The book isn’t just a biography of Saunders-Nordeen, however. It’s a focus on how women’s athletics has developed at UW-Madison and beyond.
“I’ve done probably 30 interviews with former athletes, administrators and coaches,” says Moe. “And Kit wasn’t well enough to be interviewed, but she had done two extended interviews with the UW-Madison Oral History Program that were, as you can imagine, invaluable.” Former trailblazer Judy Sweet, who in 1991 became the NCAA’s first (and only) female president, wrote the foreword.
The timing of the book, while fortuitous, is nonetheless perfect: June marks the 50th anniversary of the enactment of Title IX, prohibiting any university receiving federal funds from discriminating on the basis of gender. That’s not to say the struggles stopped in 1972. Moe notes that, seven years after the law was passed, “the UW-Madison women’s team very famously stripped naked outside Elroy Hirsch’s desk. .. because she still didn’t have a dressing room.” Saunders-Nordeen talked about not having uniforms and having to share once they had them. “There was a track meet and they were taking the uniforms and taking them to volleyball,” Moe says.
These and other stories are in the book, but there are so many that aren’t – and so many more to tell. Moe is working on two more books, still driven by a work ethic that begins with two morning walks (a long one for him through the Arboretum and a shorter one with his dog, Raylan Givens) and 30-45 minutes of reading time. (Moe also writes the lead articles for the bookstore’s monthly newsletter Mystery to Me and hosts events for authors). Then it’s “buttocks in the chair” at his desk until it’s time to read again in the evening. Reading the work of other writers he admires is an important part of his job, he says, and drives him to hope “that something I write can impact other people like all those good writers I impacted.” His stellar output reflects this, and although a deadline is always looming, he has less angst than as a daily columnist, interviewing morning sources, writing, fact-checking and arranging photographs for the night filing (“I still have PTSD from waking up at 3 a.m. knowing the paper will be coming in the aisle at 5 a.m. and worrying, ‘Did I spell that name correctly?’ he laughs.) That’s what keeps Moe working today, albeit at his own pace: knowing he’ll never run out of compelling stories, only time to write them.
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