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Nov 19, 2018







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Fly Girls. Courtesy photo.




 Keith O’Brien presents Fly Girls 

Book tour dates
• Thursday, Sept. 6, 5:30 p.m., Gibson’s Bookstore, 45 S. Main St., Concord 
• Monday, Oct. 1, 6:30 p.m., Bookery Manchester, 844 Elm St., Manchester
Visit flygirlsbook.com




Flying past
New book celebrates pioneering women of aviation

08/30/18



 By Angie Sykeny 

asykeny@hippopress.com
 
As a journalist, Keith O’Brien of Lee is always on the lookout for interesting stories. While reading a book one day, he found one — a single line that mentioned a women’s air race that took place in the late 1920s. 
“I had never heard of such a thing… and I was curious, so I dug into it a little and started going to libraries and looking at newspaper archives and reading about these racers,” O’Brien said. “They captivated the country during that time but have been forgotten. ... I knew that this was an important story to tell.” 
O’Brien’s new nonfiction book on the topic, Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History, was released last week. He will present it at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord on Thursday, Sept. 6. 
In the 1920s and 1930s, airplane racing was a hugely popular sport. It was also a male-dominated sport; only a small number of women even had a pilot’s license at that time, and the ones who did weren’t taken seriously. Fly Girls tells the story of a group of five female pilots and friends who fought for their place in the sky and proved to the world that they were just as skilled at flying, if not more so, as the men. 
One of them was Amelia Earhart, who rose to stardom after becoming the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Ruth Elder, a young divorcee from Alabama, was a pioneering woman of aviation, having flown before Earhart was even heard of. 
Arguably the most skilled of the group was Florence Klingensmith, a high school dropout who worked for a dry cleaner in North Dakota. Louise Thaden was not just a pilot but a mother of two who got her start selling coal in Kansas. 
Lastly, there was Ruth Nichols, a Wall Street daughter and graduate of Wellesley College, who flew in the face of her family’s expectations. 
“When we think of women in aviation during that time, we think of Amelia Earhart, but there were other women flying with her who were just as brave and bold and talented,” O’Brien said, “so this is not a chapter-by-chapter book about different women. It’s about an ensemble of women, fighting together for their right to fly.” 
The book follows the women’s activity from 1927 to 1936, concluding with what O’Brien calls “an unlikely triumph.” 
“There’s drama, adventure, disaster,” he said. “These women flew through everything, adversity after adversity, to win in the end.” 
O’Brien conducted his research for the book in 10 states, visiting history and aviation museums as well as town historical societies and libraries, where he pored through archival materials like letters, diaries, poetry and memoirs written by and about the five women. 
“Sadly these characters are long gone and have been dead for 40 years or longer, so I didn’t have the luxury of meeting them,” he said. “I had to rebuild their lives myself.” 
O’Brien said he had no special interest in aviation when he decided to write the story, and that readers don’t have to be interested in aviation to appreciate it. 
“Obviously, the main characters are aviators and in the world of aviation, but this isn’t a book about airplanes,” he said. “It’s a compelling human story about women who fought against impossible odds and were determined to change the world.” 





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