In May 1932, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, just one of her many accomplishments. In Flightpaths: The Amelia Earhart Poems (Caitlin Press)—published around the 80th anniversary of Earhart’s disappearance—poet Heidi Greco has used a range of research materials to create a speculative vision of journal entries, letters to family, and poems and presented them as if they were written by Earhart. Below she shares what it took to bring Earhart’s story to life.
While it’s true that my journey to making Flightpaths a reality took me quite a long while, it’s difficult to say where it really began – especially to track the route my research took. But then the very word “research” deserves examination as it seems to suggest that one searches and then (re)searches again. Or, as probably is often the case, re-searches many, many times.Although I’d done a fair bit of poking around in books and online to write A: The Amelia Poems the chapbook published in 2009, my quest grew more focused in 2011 when my husband and I made a cross-continent trek in our second-hand RV. As far as I was concerned, one of our stops had to be Atchison, Kansas, the town where Amelia Earhart had been born.Arriving in Atchison proved disappointing, as we arrived on Easter Monday, only to discover that the Birthplace Museum would not be open until the next day. But that may have been a partial blessing, as it forced us to explore the town and the other Amelia-based attractions. We found another museum, a commemorative statue with informative plaque, a history-filled cemetery, even a city garden with a planting of grasses that form a portrait of Earhart. I could see that this town took its heritage and the lives of its famous citizens seriously!
On Tuesday I went alone to the Birthplace Museum and was greeted by Louise Foudray, longtime curator and force behind the ongoing preservation of the home. Little did I know, on that first meeting, the many times we would see each other in the ensuring years.
We spent several hours together that first day, and though she gave me a thorough tour of the house, pointing out important people in the many photos there, I couldn’t help but sense that she was feeling me out, trying to determine what my motives might be. But I guess I must have passed the test, as when I came back the following day, she opened the first of many folders of documents, embellishing their contents with various observations and memories from the storehouse of her mind.Louise also served as a kind of personal librarian, steering me in the direction of books I should read if I were to come to sound conclusions on my own. With a raised eyebrow and a twinkle in her eye, she dropped hints that she knew more than she was yet willing to share. So I promised that I would come back some other year.When I got back home to B.C., I started reading my way through a mountain of books, ones I’d borrowed, bought, or otherwise stumbled onto. And as any 21st century researcher would attest, I spent way too much time on the internet.And yes, my research took me back to Atchison, and even farther afield – most happily, to Newfoundland, specifically Harbour Grace, where Earhart took off on her solo flight across the Atlantic in 1932. The field itself, with its lumpy ground covered in weedy stubble, seemed too rough to have ever served as an airstrip. Yet, in the early days of aviation this little airport served as the jumping-off point for a number of important flights.Intersections abounded. Lindbergh, Earhart, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the women pilots who would establish the still-in-existence group, The Ninety-Nines. Amelia met so many people – and apparently had an impact on nearly all of them. Generous with her time, she answered countless letters, many of them sent to her by young girls. Invariably, she encouraged them to follow their dreams.
One of the many interesting documents I encountered was a letter Earhart had sent in response to a graphologist seeking insights into her character. In it Amelia offered “…a sample of what I call my handwriting. Do tell me the tale you read therein.”While I don’t know what her handwriting might have revealed, I do know that, despite all the research I did, it hasn’t revealed any definitive outcome for what might have become of her. But maybe, after the very public life Earhart led, she should now be allowed some little island of privacy.* * * Thanks so much to Heidi for recounting her journey and sharing her photos, and to Michael at Caitlin Press for making the connection. For more Under the Cover, click here.