My Books

La Partera: Story of a Midwife

Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1980 and 2000

La Partera is the story of a Doña Jesusita Aragon, a Latina midwife from New Mexico, born in 1908. She tells in her own words how at age fourteen, she delivered her first baby, then was apprenticed to her grandmother. As a young mother, she struggled by herself to raise her three children on the plains of New Mexico. When her children were ready for high school, she moved to Las Vegas, New Mexico where she became a community leader. Aragon was so prized for her medical wisdom that she came to deliver more than 12,000 babies in the course of her career.

Dignity: Lower Income Women Tell of Their Lives and Struggles

Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1985

It brings together the oral histories of ten poor and working class women whose backgrounds vary, but who share a struggle for survival and a quest for dignity in the face of hardship. Young or old, urban or rural, welfare recipient or union activist, each relates her life story with rich detail, poignant humor, and remarkable courage.

"Nothing is more eloquent than direct testimony. Dignity is a powerful case in point. I found Fran Buss’s achievement very beautiful and deeply moving." - Studs Terkel

Journey of Sparrows (with assistance of Daisy Cubias)

New York: Puffin Books, part of the Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 1991

Nailed into a crate in the back of a truck, fifteen-year-old María, her older sister, Julia, their little brother, Oscar, and a boy named Tomás endure a terrifying and tortuous journey across the U.S. border and then north to Chicago. There they struggle to find work–cleaning, sewing, washing dishes–always fearful of arrest and deportation back to the cruelties of war torn El Salvador. It is a fictional account based on numerous real-life oral histories.

"A beautifully told tale. . . Love and hope flow through the story. " - VOYA

 “Searingly believable. . . an eye-opening contribution to juvenile literature.” - The Horn Book

Forged under the Sun: Forjado Bajo el Sol: The Life of María Elena Lucas

Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993

María Elena Lucas, the oldest of seventeen children, began work when she was five, then assisted her family as they worked as migrant workers throughout the nation. An extraordinary child, she wrote poems and stories describing their conditions. This oral history recalls Lucas’ struggle to survive poverty, hardship, and violence to become, as an adult, an outspoken champion of the United Farm Workers and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. Even after a nearly lethal dose of pesticide from a crop-dusting plane left her permanently disabled, she continued to work as a tireless activist for migrant workers in the United States. Themes that run through her stories include the emergence of Lucas’ political and religious consciousness and her growing awareness of the deeply rooted sexism in American and Latin American society. Woven into the narration are the songs, poetry, and diary entries through which Lucas has expressed herself.

“. . . an inspirational story that explores the nature of memory and resistance.” - Feminist Bookstore News

“An important book; it finally gives a politically and poetically potent voice to and analysis of a Chicana and Mexicana farmworker and impoverished woman writer’s experiences from her own mouth and pen.” - Laura Pérez, University of California, Berkeley

“Direct, gripping, and very moving, María Elena’s story is testimony to the resilience of the human spirit.” - Ruth Behar, author of Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story

Moisture of the Earth: Mary Robinson, Civil Rights and Textiles Activist

Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009

In Moisture of the Earth, Mary Robinson recounts her journey from picking cotton in rural Alabama to becoming an outspoken community leader and labor activist. It is a riveting narrative of determination and defiance in the face of poverty and racial injustice, and a rare, behind-the-scenes account of union organizing drives in the South, from the vantage point of an African American woman. Based on twenty-three years of interviews between Robinson and historian Fran Leeper Buss, it sheds light on African American resistance movements in the twentieth century and the roles of religious traditions and storytelling in struggles for social justice.

“A richly textured firsthand account of one woman’s quest for justice in the segregated South. Mary Robinson’s struggle to overcome domestic violence, racial stereotypes, self hatred, and institutionalized structures of race and class exploitation is both an inspiring story of personal transformation from victim to activist and an insightful analysis of African American community and resistance.” - Marion Crain, Washington University

Memory, Meaning, and Resistance: Reflecting on Oral History and Women at the Margins,

Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2017

This work is based on over 100 oral histories gathered from marginal and working-class U.S. women from a variety of racial, ethnic, and geographical backgrounds, including a traditional  Mexican American midwife, a Latin poet and organizer for the United Farm Workers, and an African American union and freedom movement organizer. Buss now analyzes this body of work, identifying common themes in women’s lives and resistance that unite the oral histories she has gathered. From the beginning, her work has shed light on the inseparable, compounding effects of gender, race, ethnicity, and class on women’s lives–what is now called intersectionality. It is structured thematically, with each chapter analyzing a concept that runs through the oral histories, e.g., agency, activism, and religion. The result is a testament to women’s individual and collective strength, and an invaluable guide for students and researchers on how to effectively and sensitively conduct oral histories that observe, record, recountk, and analyze women’s life stories.

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