HarperCollins Speakers Bureau

Marian Wright Edelman

Founder and President, Children’s Defense Fund


  • Charting a Course for the Next Generation
  • The Measure of Our Success
  • I Can Make a Difference


District of Columbia

Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life. Under her leadership, CDF has become the nation’s strongest voice for children and families. The Leave No Child Behind® mission of the Children’s Defense Fund is to ensure every child a “Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start” in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

Edelman’s newest book, The Sea Is So Wide and My Boat Is So Small: Charting a Course for The Next Generation (Hyperion) is a call to all Americans urging them to commit to ending child poverty in this country and to address the myriad systems that help fuel the cycle of poverty.

Edelman, a graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School, began her career in the mid-60s when, as the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, she directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson, Mississippi. In l968, she moved to Washington, D.C., as counsel for the Poor People’s Campaign that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began organizing before his death. She founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm and the parent body of the Children’s Defense Fund. For two years she served as the Director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University and in l973 began CDF.

Edelman served on the Board of Trustees of Spelman College which she chaired from 1976 to 1987 and was the first woman elected by alumni as a member of the Yale University Corporation on which she served from 1971 to 1977. She has received many honorary degrees and awards including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award, and a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship. In 2000, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings which include eight books: Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change; The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours (Harper Paperbacks); Guide My Feet: Meditations and Prayers on Loving and Working for Children (Harper Perennial); Stand for Children; Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors (Harper Paperbacks); Hold My Hand:  Prayers for Building a Movement to Leave No Child Behind; I’m Your Child, God: Prayers for Our Children; and I Can Make a Difference: A Treasury to Inspire Our Children (Amistad Childrens).

She is a board member of the Robin Hood Foundation, the Association to Benefit Children, and City Lights School and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Marian Wright Edelman is married to Peter Edelman, a Professor at Georgetown Law School. They have three sons, Joshua, Jonah, and Ezra, two granddaughters, Ellika and Zoe, and two grandsons, Elijah and Levi.

Praise for Marian Wright Edelman:

“The power and range of this Marian’s voice is even greater. It brought Robert Kennedy to Mississippi, helped to organize the Poor People’s Campaign, inspired Hillary [Clinton] and thousands of other citizens, young and old, to join her through the years in the crusade that has become known as the Children’s Defense Fund, the base from which she has changed the future for millions of America’s children, by grass-roots actions and successful lobbying in Congress, for health care, child care, education, and so much more… Like her namesake, Marian’s voice is always strong and true, singing that we are all children of God and, therefore, must protect all our children.”

– Former President Bill Clinton

Praise for The Sea is So Wide and My Boat is So Small:

“Even though Marian Wright Edelman and I grew up half a world away to parents steeped in different faiths, we share a deep commitment to putting poverty in the museums. If every reader of this book is inspired by Marian’s example to write letters to his or her children, we would begin to have the clarity and focus we need to make ending poverty our top priority.”

– Muhammad Yunus, Managing Director, Grameen Bank, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2006

“This book answers so many questions about the future of our children. Thank you Marian Wright Edelman for writing such an enjoyable, significant benchmark!”

– Bill Cosby

“…her letters are punctuated with the unfailing brilliance and grace that have marked Edelman’s remarkable career and life.”


“…an inspirational and practical perspective on ameliorating childhood poverty.”


Praise for The Measure of Our Success:

“This book is from the heart of a woman who practices each lesson she preaches. It struck a deep chord in me as a mother trying to raise a daughter in difficult times.”

– Hillary Clinton

“Every parent and every child should read this book to each other.”

– T. Berry Brazleton

“A celebration of the family, a benediction to the young, and an invocation to the nation’s conscience.”

– Jonathan Kozol

Praise for Lanterns:

“All who love children are served generously and intelligently by the ideas, commitments, and passion of Marian Wright Edelman. Her arms are open to the children and adults of the world, and we all are stronger and more safe because of her.”

– Maya Angelou

“This memoir, lucidly and poignantly told, offers a compelling moral history of our country – an account of how brave and honorable individuals helped us make changes both necessary and important to accomplish.”

– Robert Coles

“A radiant and transcendent book, filled with moral lessons from the youth of a courageous woman to the hearts of those who follow in her footsteps: a gift of love from one heroic generation to the next.”

– Jonathan Kozol

Praise for Guide My Feet:

“A wonderfully warm, poignant, and truly touching and attractive anthology… How I hope it succeeds in helping to make our communities more child-friendly.”

– Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu

“Marian Edelman blends gospel passages with her own personal prayers and her reverence for the young brings a depth to this book that goes well beyond the worlds.”

Los Angeles Times