Megan Marshall, author of the prize-winning "The Peabody Sisters," brings her powers of research and her eye for story to the life of Margaret Fuller, the groundbreaking 19th-century American journalist who was an editor of Thoreau and a friend of Emerson. Here's how "Margaret Fuller: A New American Life," begins:

'Dear Father it is a heavy storm I hope you will not have to come home in it." So begins the record of a life that will end on a homeward journey in another heavy storm, a life unusually full of words, both spoken and written.

Sarah Margaret Fuller is 6 years old when she writes this brief letter on a half-sheet of paper saved by the devoted and exacting father who receives it, next by his widow, then by their descendants. Which one of them thinks to label it "First letter"? All of her survivors understand that there are, or will be, biographers, historians, students of literature who care to know.

But first it is the father who treasures his daughter's message of concern, this lurching unpunctuated parade of runes, from the moment he unfolds the page — a father nearing 40 and eager to set his young daughter, already an apt pupil, to a "severe though kind" education. And the mother, just 21 at her daughter's birth, only 27 now: She is known to find any words her firstborn child scribbles on bits of paper "original," worthy of preservation.