The Biographer’s Craft, BIO International June 2017 Issue
Board Member Interview
Six Questions with Heath Hardage Lee
What is your current project and at what stage is it?
I am writing my second biography, this time a group biography entitled The League of Wives: A True Story of Survival and Rescue from the Vietnam Homefront. The book follows four Vietnam-era women through their incredible transformation from conservative, rule-bound, stay-in-the-background military wives to covert spies, national lobbyists, and international human rights figures—all to save the lives of their POW husbands and those missing in action. The book will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2019.
I took a new approach and curated an exhibit on these amazing women while writing the book. The exhibition, titled The League of Wives: Vietnam’s POW/MIA Allies & Advocates, opened in May at Senator Robert J. Dole’s Institute of Politics in Lawrence, Kansas. The exhibition will travel to museums across the country for the next three years and further extend the story of the women in this biography and their work on the Vietnam POW/MIA cause. It’s a preview of the larger story to come when the book is published.
Who is your favorite biographer or what is your favorite biography?
I have two favorite biographers, one American and one British. Kitty Kelley’s book on Jackie Kennedy, Jackie Oh!, is a classic that I have read multiple times. I also adore Hermione Lee’s style, and her biography of Edith Wharton is exquisitely written. I am constantly reading narrative nonfiction also, and Jon Krakauer’s book about the Mormon religion, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, made a huge impression on me. The way he combines the social history of the Mormon Church with a horrifying murder is stunning.
What have been your most satisfying moments as a biographer?
I have been thrilled to bring the story of Vietnam-era POW/MIA wives to light—these women have never gotten the credit they deserve for what they did. I hope now they will be in the history books and finally be recognized publicly for their achievements. It was so satisfying to see the level of interest in this story among both publishers and museum professionals. No one could believe they had not heard of these women before!
What have been your most frustrating moments?
The most frustrating moments for me have come when I have not been able to obtain government archival records quickly and efficiently. FOIA and military records requests take MONTHS, so start early!
One research/marketing/attitudinal tip to share?
Spend the time you need to on the research; don’t be in such a hurry to write. I also find narrative timelines and chronologies to be extremely helpful. I write one for each chapter before I start—it is always my framework.
If you weren't a biographer, what dream profession would you be in, and why?
I have been lucky to get to practice both my dream professions at once! I love curating and museum work, so being able to go back to my history museum roots and curate a show based on my new book was amazing. The book is a literary representation of the story, whereas the exhibit is a visual one. They both feed off the other and strengthen each other, which makes the story even richer.
More Recent Press
Book Deals: Week of May 29, 2017 :: Publishers Weekly
Michael Flamini at St. Martin’s Press took North American rights, at auction, to Heath Hardage Lee’s The League of Wives: A True Story of Survival and Rescue from the Vietnam Homefront. Lee, who was represented by Katherine Flynn at Kneerim & Williams, is a historian who has spent much of her career working for museums. This book, Flynn said, “follows four Vietnam-era women through their incredible transformation from conservative, rule-bound, stay-in-the-background military wives to covert spies, national lobbyists, and international human rights figures—all to save the lives of their POW husbands and those missing in action.”
Mike Slater Show: KFMB San Diego Jan. 27. 2017
Click HERE to listen.
Sacred Trust Talks & Book Signings Event, July 4-6, 2014 :: THE GETTYSBURG FOUNDATION :: May 16, 2014
-"... speakers include Allen Carl Guelzo, Stephen Fox, Heath Hardage Lee, Richard M. McMurry and Wayne E. Motts, just to name a few."