Most people know about Albert Einstein, the epitome of human intelligence, who once stuck out his tongue for a photograph.
There may not be much information readily available, however, about Mileva Marić, Einstein’s first wife.
“I happened to be reading a children’s biography with one of my sons, and there was a sentence or two about Mileva, not much,” author Marie Benedict said. “There was a mention that she was one of his classmates in his university’s physics program in Zurich, and then they got married.”
Benedict couldn’t help but think: Who was this woman?
“She was a physics university student with Einstein for all four years. She had the same education as him, for all intents and purposes, at a time when few women had any kind of advanced education,” she said. “So I just kind of became fascinated with her and went down my rabbit hole of research, and when I really discovered her story, it was far more fascinating than I had ever imagined. And I knew I had to tell her story.”
The result was her first book, “The Other Einstein,” in what has become a series of fact-based fictional works about women and their contributions to history.
Benedict is the featured speaker for Peters Township Public Library’s second annual Read Local/Eat Local event, scheduled for June 22. Her 10 a.m. talk will be followed by a book signing, and a gathering of 25 authors plus three food trucks – Burgh Bites, Southside BBQ Company and Udderly Fresh – takes place from 11 to 1.
After working as a commercial litigator in New York City for more than a decade, Benedict decided it was time for a change.
“I knew that really wasn’t the path I wanted to be on,” she said, “and I kind of circled back to my interest from my childhood in history, in particular excavating unknown stories, particularly about women.”
She does substantial research about her subjects.
“I’m digging deep into original source material if I can find it, and I’m looking for really solid secondary material about the world that they inhabit, to create both a realistic universe and also to really understand what their world was like and what was influencing them,” she said. “I kind of create the structure of the story around that, using that research.”
There always is plenty of room for speculation.
“I might know, for example, that Albert and Mileva had their first long conversation in the university library on a particular day, but I don’t actually know what they discussed,” Benedict said. “And that’s kind of where the fiction comes in. As I move forward in the story, it fills in a lot of the gaps and answers a lot of the questions that we don’t have answers for. It’s my version of this particular piece of history.”
Her second book, “Carnegie’s Maid,” is different in that the protagonist is fictionalized.
“In looking at Andrew Carnegie’s impetus for his philanthropy, I felt that there was a story there, and I felt there may have been a woman involved in sort of influencing him. But I couldn’t find her,” Benedict said. “So I really needed to invent her, and in many ways it was kind of perfect for my purposes, because Clara Kelley is really an amalgamation of so many immigrant women who have made huge contributions to our country but whose contributions have been invisible.”
“The Only Woman in the Room,” published in January, is about actress Hedy Lamarr and her not-as-well-known achievement as co-inventor of spread spectrum technology, a system of radio control for torpedoes that served as the launching point for such innovations as cellphones and Wi-Fi.
“I feel such an honor to tell their stories, but it’s also a huge responsibility. I really feel a commitment to the women I choose to write about,” Benedict said.
Benedict has more stories in the works, including a book scheduled to be published in January, and she said there is no shortage of subjects.
“I have a long list of women I may want to research and may want to write about, and I kind of turn my attention to them when the time is right,” she said.
Advance registration is requested for her talk at the library, as seating is limited. To register, contact 724-941-9430, ext. 1.
No registration is required for Read Local/Eat Local.
For more information, visit ptlibrary.org.