Of late, I have been entertained and enthralled by a trio of writings. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the biography, the poem, and the novel, I found myself even more entranced by each writer’s individual contribution to the world of literature.
A confession: all I really knew about the pivotal Yalta Conference, which coincidentally occurred exactly 76 years ago last week, was contained in the iconic Big Three photograph that appeared in my high school history book and again in a college text. It was a high-level assemblage there on Stalin’s turf, with even higher stakes during the waning months of WWII – and three differing agendas for postwar Europe. My dearth of knowledge would have continued if not for The Daughters of Yalta by Catherine Grace Katz, with insider accounts of the political wheeling and dealing from three unique perspectives.
Although never present during the debate and decisions, three thirty-something women served their fathers in more important ways, providing comfort and advice as assistants and confidantes. Fluent in Russian, Kathleen Harriman, champion-skier-turned-war-correspondent, routinely organized embassy details for U.S. Ambassador to Russia Averell Harriman. Sarah Churchill, the erstwhile actress who eventually interpreted aerial reconnaissance photos as an RAF officer, provided a sounding board for Prime Minister Winston Churchill. And Anna Roosevelt, whom President Franklin Roosevelt chose over his wife Eleanor for this assignment, catered to FDR’s needs and wishes even as she held close the secrets of his precarious health situation. Ms. Katz’s biography, with its wealth of details placed in context, bolstered my understanding of the historic conference, although I frequently believed I was actually reading historical fiction.
During afternoon breaks from the world of high finance, Ms. Katz retreated to a tiny bookstore located near her office and devoted entirely to Winston Churchill. By virtue of her serendipitous bookshop visits, Ms. Katz, with degrees in history and economics from Harvard and Cambridge, was granted access to all-things-Churchill. She ultimately researched and penned The Daughters of Yalta while simultaneously attending Harvard Law School. Incredibly, this first-time author is herself the age of the “daughter diplomats” about whom she so fascinatingly wrote.
To avoid intrusive chatter by network anchors, I regularly view national events on C-SPAN. Thus, I did not realize a poet laureate would participate in January’s inaugural ceremonies until she was introduced. Robert Frost was the only previous inaugural poet I even remembered. Sadly, it was not a smooth elocution by my favorite poet during JFK’s inauguration in 1961.
My low expectation, however, turned into utter amazement when a mere slip of a girl stepped to the podium to deliver the highlight of the program. With each word of Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” my heart raced ahead in admiration and anticipation.
So accustomed as we have become marinating in ugly rhetoric spewed from meaningless sound bites and venomous social media messages, it was a fresh wind that blew in, full of hopeful phrases from the self-described “skinny black girl”: a nation that isn’t broken, simply unfinished…lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us…seek harm to none and harmony for all…rebuild, reconcile and recover…for there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it…if only we’re brave enough to be it. And if only all of us could be courageous enough to consider Amanda Gorman’s profound and unifying ideas…
I have yet to comprehend how a 22-year-old can possess such wisdom – and the capability to share it so effectively. The daughter of a single mother, victim of a debilitating childhood speech impediment, she was encouraged to overcome, and she has accomplished exactly that. In turn, she encourages Americans to overcome, to dislodge ourselves from the outdated political entanglements dividing us. Read “The Hill We Climb” again, and then once more. Watch her deliver – and I mean deliver – her poem on YouTube. Most importantly, let us all join her in being brave.
Although Where the Crawdads Sing has been a bestseller for two years, I was not overly enthusiastic about reading Delia Owens’ novel: I am just not a crawdad kind of gal. The opening descriptions of flora and fauna in North Carolina’s marshland did little to entice me; I almost returned the library book unread.
I persisted, however – and boy, am I glad I did. Ms. Owens’ lush depiction of nature painted unforgettable pictures for my mind’s eye. The coming-of-age story in which Kya grew from solitary childhood into beautiful, purposeful womanhood, tugged and tugged again at my heartstrings. And for good measure, the whole thing was folded into a page-turner of a murder mystery. My absolute favorite kind of reading: captivating characters populating a compelling story line.
Unlike this article’s other two authors, however, Delia Owens is my age. In the midst of expansive travel, life in Africa, and work as a wildlife scientist, she originally shared her experiences in three non-fiction books I would never have read. Fortunately, during her seventh decade Ms. Owens chose to employ a new genre with Where the Crawdads Sing as her debut novel, one that I relished reading. Her efforts and success are somehow encouraging to a Boomer like me, in that old-and-new, dogs-and-tricks kind of way.
I highly recommend this enlightening biography, this encouraging poem, this engrossing novel. Their excellence stands in tribute to the ladies who have written so beautifully – and shared themselves with us along the way.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.