Happy Book Birthday to It’s My Country Too

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Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Book Birthday to It’s My Country Too: Women’s Military Stories from the American Revolution to Afghanistan (Potomac Books, 2017) edited by Jerri Bell and Tracy Crow. 

About the book:

This inspiring anthology is the first to convey the rich experiences and contributions of women in the American military in their own words—from the Revolutionary War to the present wars in the Middle East.

Serving with the Union Army during the Civil War as a nurse, scout, spy, and soldier, Harriet Tubman tells what it was like to be the first American woman to lead a raid against an enemy, freeing some 750 slaves. Busting gender stereotypes, Josette Dermody Wingo enlisted as a gunner’s mate in the navy in World War II to teach sailors to fire Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns. Marine Barbara Dulinsky recalls serving under fire in Saigon during the Tet Offensive of 1968, and Brooke King describes the aftermath of her experiences outside the wire with the army in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In excerpts from their diaries, letters, oral histories, and pension depositions—as well as from published and unpublished memoirs—generations of women reveal why and how they chose to serve their country, often breaking with social norms, even at great personal peril.

Reviews:

“Bell and Crow have done a service by amplifying the important voices in this collection.”—Publishers Weekly

“This rich anthology of women’s military stories is ripe with the history of female contributions to U.S. conflicts. . . . Enthusiastically recommended for all collections.”—Library Journal starred review

“From every major U.S. war, the stories both awe and inspire.”—Captain Bill Bray, Proceedings

Media:

On the blog:

On Twitter:

 A word from Jerri Bell:

For the annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs—AWP—Tracy Crow and I made up promotional cards for It’s My Country Too: Women’s Military Stories from the American Revolution to Afghanistan, which would be published by University of Nebraska Press/Potomac Books in July 2017. I was working at the Veterans Writing Project table in the AWP Book Fair, and I liked to come in about an hour before opening to sit quietly among all the shiny new books with my coffee and a few other early bird vendors. On the second morning of the conference, I noticed that Bradley Graham, co-owner of Politics & Prose, was also at his table early. Politics & Prose is my favorite independent bookstore, and doing a reading there was on my bucket list. Life goals.

Brad didn’t look like he wanted company. And I’m an introvert. But if you’re going to market your book, even the book that isn’t on the shelves yet, you have to hustle. I channeled my inner fishwife, grabbed a few book cards, and marched up to Brad. He looked up with obvious reluctance.

“Excuse me!” I said. “I know everybody at AWP has just written a book that they’re trying to sell you,” I said. “And I’m sorry to be another one of those people. But I’m a local DC-area author, and my co-author Tracy Crow and I have just written a book that I think would be a great fit for P&P. May I offer you our card?”

He took the card I offered and glanced at the side with the beautiful cover UNP had designed for us. The body language said, “Go away, Intrusive Unknown Writer.” But Brad asked, “Who’s your publisher?”

“University of Nebraska,” I said.

His eyebrows went up and he flipped the card over. Read the blurbs I’d cut and pasted from the marketing copy we’d received a few months before: renowned author Matt Gallagher; the president of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation; and the curator of military history at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

“E-mail us,” he said, making eye contact. “I think we’d be interested in arranging a reading when your book is out.”

That reading, in August, turned into our book launch. Brad called me into his office when I arrived that evening and offered me water. “You should know that a crew from C-SPAN Books is here,” he said. “They look at our schedule and sometimes they want to film a reading and run it on C-SPAN.”

Tracy and I had only presented together once, to a small but warm audience at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. And she was stuck in a cab in DC rush hour traffic. When she came in, I pointed at the cameras. “We’re getting filmed by C-SPAN,” I said.

“Thank God I’m wearing pants instead of a skirt!” she said. “But if I’d known, I wouldn’t have worn white!”

Somehow we pulled off an hour-long reading and discussion for about fifty or sixty people, not all of them our friends and relatives. We signed books until the store closed. That night was a magical beginning to a magical year of reading and discussing the stories of the women veterans whose writing we’d collected in It’s My Country Too.

Readings and signings are a kind of crapshoot. You never know how many people will attend, what they’ll ask, or how many books they’ll buy. A well-advertised and professionally arranged reading at a national battlefield draws a crowd of half a dozen people who ask one or two questions and don’t buy any books. A veterans’ service organization asked me to speak but not to bring books for sale; a dozen attendees wanted to know why I wasn’t selling books out of my satchel, and they took down the information to order from Amazon. I brought about a dozen copies to a meeting of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, sold everything I had, and disappointed half a dozen more attendees. Military Times included It’s My Country Too in its list of “Best Books of 2017” and called it “welcome and necessary.” And then the North Carolina Department of Military Affairs gifted each of the 320 women veterans attending the 2018 Women’s MilVets Summit and Expo in May with a copy.

What mattered most to us, though, were the connections we made with other women veterans who reached out to tell us that when they read our book they saw themselves reflected in history for the first time. Or that the stories touched them, or made a difference in how they understood their service. Publishing may be an industry, but it runs on human connection. And, after all, isn’t that why we write?

 

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