This Fantastic Struggle

RATED “EXCEPTIONAL,” representing the top 10% of new
books published each year in America — TODAYS BOOKS, 2003

ISBN 978-0-9798236-1-9; Reissue 2009
Library of Congress # 2002110706
Originally Published 2002
Paperback Original; 457 pgs. $18
Available Now through the Author

Independently Distributed
through the Author

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Praise for This Fantastic Struggle: The Life & Art
of Esther Phillips

“A meticulously detailed biography of little-known 20th century artist Phillips. Miles records the struggle (including institutionalization) of an artist wholly committed to her craft [and] offers the life of her subject as an emblem of the hardships and inner passions in the lives and careers of other artists…. Miles’ celebration of Philips will stand as a thoughtful and compassionate contribution to the study of artists laboring on the margins. Recommended. Faculty and Researchers.” -B.L. Herman, University of Delaware, CHOICE Magazine.

“A remarkable book…both educational and provocative. [It] will arouse attention.” -Robert Henkes, author, American Women Painters of the 30s & 40s.

“The story of one who produced so much art, yet left so many questions… I couldn’t stop reading! -Brian Butko, Editor, Western Pennsylvania History Magazine.

“Miles is the most great-hearted biographer of a cantankerous artist since Irving Stone wrote of Van Gogh. May Swenson would have loved again meeting her friend Esther Phillips in these pages.” -R.R. Knudson, author, The Amazing Pen of May Swenson.

“Most inviting–so well done graphically. The book is artistic and intimate in its design.” -Louise Sturgess, Director, Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

“This book has a unique flow that is missing from many of the other biographies I have read.  I would definitely recommend it.” –Aug 2010 Bridget H., Readaholic Blog

“A tribute . . . to all artists who struggle. [A] much needed book.” – J. Kevin McMahon, President, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

“Intricate and insightful, filled with drama and facts… a comprehensive coverage of a lesser-known artist who deserves a place in history.”
-The Bookwatch, 2002



Rarely if ever does the creative artist receive either the recognition or the recompense he deserves and needs. Lisa A. Miles brings this truism to vibrant life in This Fantastic Struggle, the biography of Esther Phillips. Woven together with letters, interviews, scholarly source material, institution documents and art work, this unique cultural essay presents an absorbing glimpse at what it means to be an artist.

Raised in Pittsburgh by a family that couldn’t appreciate her artistic identity, Esther left for Greenwich Village in the 1930s and never looked back. And an artist Esther was, though it cost her deeply. Despite early critical success, she was not able to make a living during the Depression and was institutionalized for over six years, likely for the results of starvation and stress.

After her release, she returned to her art and to the Village, where her struggle continued. Eventually she lapsed into obscurity, but not before saying she had lived a wonderful life. This Fantastic Struggle is also the story of friendship–the kind that keeps alive both friends and art work that would otherwise have been lost to the world.

This book will appeal to a long list of individuals–art professionals & creative artists of all disciplines; historians, librarians & archivists; mental health professionals; art therapists; those captivated by Pittsburgh history, Greenwich Village, the Abstract Expressionists, letters, diaries, journals, interviews & all that comprise the literary and oral tradition; those with an interest in FDR’s WPA programs, psychology and life philosophies, sociology, cultural studies & the cause of women artists; and those who simply like the creatively-layered design of a true story, befitting the creative nonfiction genre.

This Fantastic Struggle will certainly prompt a general adult readership to better understand mental illness, to see artists as workers, and perhaps most importantly, to examine their own passions, their own lives.

“Many thanks for sending your book, This Fantastic Struggle:  The Life & Art of Esther Phillips to me. It is wonderful work and I am flattered that you chose to send me a copy.”–Teresa Heinz “What a great talk! Your blend of content and process was just right! I really appreciated that you provided the audience with a context to Esther Phillips, and how your experience as an artist and working in the mental health profession connects to your role as a historian and writer. The research stories were entertaining… and your enthusiasm contagious. Thank you again for your willingness to participate in our Meet the Author series.”–Anne Fortescue, Heinz History Center