Author and North Cross School alumna Liza Mundy will visit Roanoke on April 4. The author of Code Girls: The Untold Story of American Women Code Breakers of World War II (Hachette, 2017) will speak onstage at North Cross School with women’s history biographer Heath Hardage Lee from 2 to 4 PM. That evening Mundy will give a book talk and sign copies at Book No Further.
Heath Lee, the author of the Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause (Potomac Books, 2014) and the forthcoming The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the President, the Pentagon and the Rest of the US Government to Bring Their Husbands Home (St. Martin’s Press, 2019), is active in the community of biographers in Virginia and is on the board of BIO: Biographers International Organization. The North Cross parent is a natural host for Ms. Mundy’s visit. She gave BOOK CITY ★ ROANOKE a
BOOK CITY ★ ROANOKE: Mundy’s Code Girls focuses on women code breakers in World War II. Your forthcoming book looks at the commitment and political mobilization of POW wives in the Vietnam War, and Winnie Davis was an important postbellum figure in a changing nation. What parallels do you see in the study of these women from different eras?
Heath Hardage Lee: These women were all rule-breakers, and ground-breakers, whether they intended to be or not. In Liza’s book, young educated women were secretly recruited to break codes for the U.S. government during World War II. They were doing “a man’s job” because most men of the era wanted to be combat soldiers, not desk jockeys. Thanks to the war, what these women got was an incredible opportunity to rise in a field that had been (and sadly still is) male-dominated.
Liza and I both seem attracted to stories about women history has forgotten or hidden. This whole genre of nonfiction books has really taken off recently, thanks to books like Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, The Girls of Atomic City, by Denise Kiernan and The Astronaut Wives Club, by Lily Koppel and many others. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements also have brought more awareness to women told to “Keep Quiet.” The POW MIA wives in my book were told to “Keep Quiet” for a different reason: the military and government did not want them to talk about their prisoner and missing husbands for diplomatic reasons during the Vietnam War. This turned out to be the wrong call, and my wives corrected this by “Going Public” much
like women are doing today regarding sexual abuse issues. Winnie Davis was also told to “keep quiet” about her romance with her northern abolitionist leaning fiancé and about the fact that she chose to make New York her home after the Civil War and not the South. She was also a career writer in a time where most women of her class did not work. I like to think of all these women as “Rebels with a Cause”!
BCR: Stories like these are often inspiring because of the way women rise to challenges, taking on new roles in a changing society. Who today comes to mind when you consider this description?
HHL: I always gravitate to writers, artists and filmmakers due to my own interests. I love what Reese Witherspoon is doing, taking books for women, by women, about women and adapting them for film using all-female teams. She has used the platform she has so well. Of course, there are so many writers I admire right now for taking on these overlooked stories about women and minorities and making them known. Liza is among these exceptional writers, as is Margot Lee Shetterly, and our own hometown star Beth Macy. I also love following women like artists Marina Abramovic and Yayoi Kusama. They often take huge professional risks, but their works are totally mesmerizing.
BCR: What attracted you first to tell stories, specifically the stories of women?
HHL: From the time I was a teenager, all I wanted to read was biographies about women. They looked like me and I could relate to the struggles they faced and the emotions they had. I also only wanted to read TRUE stories, I never liked fiction too much as it always seemed contrived. The truth, they say is stranger than fiction. I have certainly found that is true in my own work. I feel sure Liza would agree!
BCR: What can the audience expect from the conversation between two writers on April 4?
HHL: Well one thing I KNOW we will talk about is coding! Code-breaking, government secrecy, the rivalry between the Army and the Navy coding units, lots of juicy stuff our audience will not want to miss hearing about! These days so much of this has been declassified, but for many years women who coded during both World War II. and Vietnam were terrified to talk about their covert work and experiences. Now we can discuss this more openly. Liza will talk about the nuts and bolts of how this worked, as well as the emotional toll it took on the women. Liza will be center stage, and the primary focus will be her women and the incredible World War II codebreaking work they did so well. We need to celebrate what they did and get these women in our history books.
The April 4 event with Heath Lee and Liza Mundy will take place at Fishburn Auditorium on the North Cross campus from 2 to 3 PM. There will be a reception and book signing immediately following the talk in Hancock Library. More information is available at the Facebook event page.
That evening, at 6:30 PM, Ms. Mundy will give a book talk and sign books at Book No Further in the 16 West Marketplace in downtown Roanoke. Just mention the school, and the store will donate 10% of the book’s sales to North Cross School. ★