Doug Moe is 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-plus years.
Madison Magazine | Maggie Ginsberg
Doug Moe’s latest book project began, like so many of his stories do, with a message from a local resident familiar with his work — in this case, someone on behalf of 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-plus years (including monthly profiles and near-weekly blog posts for Madison Magazine, for which he also served as editor in the 1990s). Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss called Moe “the inimitable chronicler of Madison,” but Moe is more humble than that. “I really can’t say I’ve turned much down,” he says with a laugh, hinting that he’s always needed the money. But this is closer to the truth: Moe can’t say no to a compelling story.
This new story isn’t Nordeen’s, however — it’s his wife’s. Katherine “Kit” Saunders-Nordeen was the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s first director of intercollegiate athletics for women and a pioneering force for female athletes’ rights nationwide. 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 released this April by HenschelHAUS Publishing. It is dedicated in 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 honor her.”
The book isn’t just a biography of Saunders-Nordeen, however. It’s a lens into how women’s athletics grew at UW–Madison and beyond.
“I did probably 30 interviews with former athletes and administrators and coaches,” Moe says. “And Kit was not well enough to be interviewed, but she’d done two extended interviews with the UW–Madison Oral History program that were, as you can imagine, invaluable.” Fellow pioneering alumna Judy Sweet, who in 1991 became the first (and only) female president of the NCAA, wrote the foreword.
The book’s timing, though coincidental, is nevertheless perfect: June marks 50 years since Title IX was signed into law, prohibiting any university that receives federal funds from discriminating based on gender. That’s not to say the struggles stopped in 1972. Moe notes that, seven years after the law passed, “the UW–Madison women’s crew very famously disrobed outside of Elroy Hirsch’s office … because they still didn’t have a locker room.” Saunders-Nordeen spoke of not having uniforms, and having to share once they did. “There’d be a track meet and they’d take the uniforms and run them over to volleyball,” Moe says.
Those stories and others are in the book, but there are so many that aren’t — and so many more to tell. Moe is at work on two other 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 to 45 minutes of reading time (Moe also writes the lead features for Mystery to Me bookstore’s monthly newsletter and hosts author events). Then it’s “butt in the chair” at his writing desk until it’s time to read again in the evenings. Reading the work of other writers he admires is an important part of the job, he says, and drives him to hope “that something I write might impact others the way all these good writers have impacted me.” His remarkable output reflects this, and although a deadline always looms, he has less angst than he did as a daily newspaper columnist, interviewing sources in the morning, writing, fact-checking and arranging photography for nightly filing (“I still have PTSD from waking up at 3 a.m. knowing that newspaper is gonna hit the driveway at 5 a.m. and worrying, ‘Did I spell that name right?’ ” he says, laughing). That’s what keeps Moe working today, albeit at his own pace: knowing there will never be a shortage of fascinating stories — only of time to write them.