Saturday, May 23, my former Russian professor, the most excellent and accomplished Juliette Stapanian Apkarian, kindly delivered Anna Alexandrovna’s quilt to my friends Valentina Ivanovna Kotlyar (retired airline pilot and Aviatrissa club VP) and Lidiya Yakovlevna Zaitseva (retired MiG pilot, world-record holder). Saturday afternoon, they presented Anna Alexandrovna with a hand-made quilt sewn by my mom and signed by more than fifty women pilots and aviation enthusiasts from the U.S. and Russia.
Anna Alexandrovna joked that she wanted to study English so she could read all the messages from the American pilots, and she said she planned to hang the quilt on the wall “like a picture.” She sends her wishes to the members of Women in Aviation, International and thanks them for their kind words.
Thank you to Juliette, Valentina, and Lidiya for delivering the quilt to Anna Alexandrovna, to the fine women of WAI for their messages to her, and to my mom for her labor at the sewing machine!
I’m wondering if there’s a bright future for quilt diplomacy…
…and on the way to Moscow at the end of the week. It turned out beautifully, thanks to Mom’s skilled hands. Thanks, Mom! And thank you to my wonderful former Russian language professor, Juliette Stapanian Apkarian for delivering it to Anna Alexandrovna–we hope she likes it.
On Wednesday, May 6, at 7pm, Nashville’s excellent independent bookstore Davis-Kidd is co-hosting a book signing with Nashville’s NPR affiliate, Nashville Public Radio.
It’s in conjunction with a weeklong fundraiser for WPLN (all sales benefit the station). I’m obviously a big fan of WPLN–not only for the high-quality reporting, but because I often produce radio features for the station.
I’ll be reading a few very short excerpts from Anna Alexandrovna’s memoir, adding a few illuminating facts for historical context. (How many Soviet citizens died during WWII? How many women flew in combat during the war?) And we’ll briefly explore the question of what makes a person a hero. (Are heroes superhuman?) Come see us! It’s gluten-free.
Thank you Davis-Kidd and WPLN for the opportunity!
To all those of you at the WAI conference (and others) who signed and wrote notes on some mysterious beige-colored cloth squares, you’ll be glad to know that my diligent and talented mom is hard at work assembling the “quilt of well-wishers.” It’s looking quite fantastic so far:
A little more than fifty people signed the quilt, including dozens of female military, commercial, and general aviation pilots, several of our illustrious “WASP” superstars (Women Air Force Service Pilots–WWII woman veterans who ferried military planes during the war), the Russian lady pilots who traveled to the Atlanta conference, and various folks who were involved with putting this translation/edition of RSBD together.
Thanks, Mom, for your work and creativity, and let’s hope we can get Anna Alexandrovna this lovely gift sometime this summer.
The inimitable Amy Laboda, editor of “Aviation for Women” magazine, most kindly gave me the opportunity to write an essay for the magazine about how I came to co-translate and edit “Red Sky Black Death.” My winding path to RSBD began and culminated with Women in Aviation, International’s annual conference, as you’ll discover on the “About the Editor” page on this site, which is a basic summary of the story in WAI’s magazine.
If Amy gives me the thumbs up, I’ll post the article on this site once the next issue comes out.
WAI’s magazine goes out to its 7,000+ membership, which includes “astronauts, corporate pilots, maintenance technicians, air traffic controllers, business owners, educators, journalists, flight attendants, high school and university students, air show performers, airport managers and many others.” (from their website) It’s a great opportunity to get the word out about Anna Alexandrovna’s wonderful story–to a group of women with amazing life histories of their own.
Around noon on Monday, March 2, I met my wonderful friends Mike and Colleen DeGregory at Mirror–their ultra-cool restaurant in the 12South neighborhood of Nashville. Mom and Mike headed to the Russian market for deli meat and cheese while Colleen and I ironed miles of red felt and arranged the dining room for a cocktail-style party. While Colleen made magic in the front of the house, Michael produced a magnificent Russian feast: mounds of Russian-style “Olivier” salad, marinated “Korean” carrots, buttery potato pancakes, and buckwheat blini (small pancakes) batter–an insane recipe which required around 237 distinct steps and lengthy proofing periods. Mom and I ran backup–Mom operating the dishwashing machine, and me peeling eggs and flipping potato pancakes. The four of us quickly tore through Michaels’s secret stash of red caviar from the Russian market. (Potato pancakes topped with dill sour cream and salmon caviar will change your life.)
By 5pm, the room was all festive Soviet dignity, if you can imagine that. Bold red banners framed the book cover art and hung from the ceiling, and centerpieces of red felt, Soviet military hats, lemons, and pine needles decorated every table. The Red Army Band’s earnest wartime ballads issued from the sound system.
After rushing home to shower and change into the lovely dress my co-translator Margarita sent me last year from Moscow, I returned to Mirror around 15 minutes before launch time–to find that several people had already arrived early. Was this the moment I stopped worrying that nobody was going to show up? I’m not sure, because the whirlwind quickly descended.
Kim and Carrie
After signing the first copy for my dear friend Carrie, I turned to esteemed poet Bill Brown, my high school English teacher, and my accomplished author friend Robert Benson for help. “What,” I asked them, “is the protocol for signing a book of which I’m not technically the author?”
“I’ve seen people sign newly edited editions of the Bible that they worked on,” said Robert. “If somebody can sign the Bible, I’m thinking you can sign this.”
So I quit worrying and started having a good time.
After an hour, I finally looked up from my little signing table and took in my surroundings: a room full of friends enjoying the wonderful party Mike and Colleen had made, standing in line to buy books from my mom, and taking turns sitting down to chat with me. Mike fried blini to order, dressed in a Russian military uniform and Soviet Air Force cap, while Colleen mixed the most deliciously evil cocktails, with names like “Jewel of the Tsar.”
Other friends pitched in to help: Elizabeth Brock drove in from Memphis, repre-sent-ing in a big furry hat; my husband Hal and Michael Fenswick ran plates and backed up Mike in the kitchen; and Dad worked the room with supreme dexterity, looking dapper in his black jacket and t-shirt, and introducing me with the perfect mix of humor, grace, and a true showman’s sense of drama.
Mom and Dad, Hal and I, Mike, Colleen, Elizabeth, and everyone else who counts deemed the event a roaring success. Folks said they never realized Russian food was so delicious, and the Russians present declared Mike’s work to be a masterful rendition of the real thing. And did I mention? We sold out of books–75 to be exact.
Not that that 75 books exactly shoots RSBD onto the NYTimes bestseller list; but that’s OK. That’s not what it’s about. To me, it’s about sharing Anna Yegorova’s life story with a few people at a time, spreading the word about this extraordinary woman’s accomplishments and sacrifices, and hopefully passing on a little bit of that enjoyment and fascination I felt as I worked on this thrilling project.
And if we can throw in an excuse to eat blini and caviar and sip shimmering red vodka cocktails with wonderful friends–that’s icing.
To read the first review of the book, please see:
Alina’s post on Armchair General.com
A short video of the event, from Margie Maddux Newman’s “Vidalicious” blog: