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Where the Action Was Author's Note
Penny Colman shares why she wrote Where the Action Was: Women War Correspondents in World War II.
My mother, my passion for women's history, and Lee Miller are three of the reasons why I wrote Where the Action Was: Women War Correspondents in World War II.
My mother, because when I was about eight years old, she got a job as a journalist at a newspaper, and occasionally she took me with her as she went to where the action was in our small town. I was there when she interviewed Pete Pepkey, the saddle maker, and covered the annual field day and watermelon-eating contest at a state mental hospital and investigated the rumor that a group of gypsies were camping in a nearby state park. Oftentimes she took photographs that the newspaper published along with her stories. Her job lasted only a few years, but the experience undoubtedly sparked my fascination with the women I wrote about in Where the Action Was.
This book is connected with my mother in another way because she spent much of her childhood in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), including the summer of 1938 when Adolph Hitler invaded that country. I always knew that for her World War II was more than an event in a history book or the subject of a movie. It was personal, although she never talked much about it.
My mother died before I started Where the Action Was, and I wondered if writing about the war through the experiences and words and photographs of women war correspondents would make the war personal for me. It did and I hope it will for readers, too.
My passion for women's history is another reason that I wrote Where the Action Was. Why the passion?
For most of my life, historical women were invisible or confined to traditional roles. Then I discovered the truth about women's indispensable contributions to American history. I uncovered true stories about real women overcoming odds and obstacles to do what they needed to do and wanted to do in life. I realized that historical knowledge empowers all of us to know who we are and what we can do in the world. I figured out that knowing women's history protects girls and women from being duped into thinking that they are inferior, or unfit, or incapable. That is why I am passionate about women's history.
My third reason for writing Action is Lee Miller, a woman war correspondent in World War II. Initially, it was a picture of Miller on the cover of a book that caught my attention. A head and shoulder, black-and-white photograph of Miller with her head turned toward her right shoulder and her eyes looking slightly up. She is wearing a U.S. Army uniform with her tie neatly knotted and the brass letters, "U.S.," pinned on both sides of the collar. The hair in front of her ear is swept up to the edge of her sharply creased garrison cap that has a patch with the words "war correspondent" embroidered around the letters U.S. The picture is on the cover of Lee Miller's War: Photographer and Correspondent With the Allies in Europe 1944-45, a collection of Miller's World War II photographs and stories.
Captivated and intrigued, I bought the book and it inspired me to begin the research that led to writing my tenth book on women's history, Where the Action Was Women War Correspondents in World War II.
As I gathered material, I thought long and hard about how to present it. I could write a biography of one woman war correspondent, or a collective biography of a group of women, or select articles and photographs and write headnotes, or organize the book around topics such as accreditation, discrimination, censorship, and communication. But none of those ideas captured my imagination. Reading the women war correspondents'words and seeing the women photographers'pictures was an extraordinary experience that affected me deeply. Their resourcefulness and courage and determination to do their job astonished me. And I needed a structure that allowed me to convey that to the reader.
My solution was to write two overlapping narratives. One, an account of selected events that led up to World War II and that took place during the war itself. Two, an account that featured selected women war correspondents with their words and photographs woven into the account of the war. That way the reader can experience the women's context with all its dangers and demands.
Women war correspondents were heroic in their efforts to cover World War II and they left an indelible legacy of powerful words and images. Writing this true story was inspiring. I trust that reading it will be inspiring too.