Surrey-based poet Heidi Greco is the author of Flightpaths: The Lost Journals of Amelia Earhart. (photo: George Omorean)

FOCUS: Surrey writer on a fantasy flight with lost pilot Amelia Earhart

New ‘Flightpaths’ book showcases Heidi Greco’s words as if written by Earhart herself

SURREY — Amelia Earhart was born on July 24, 1897, so it’s a safe bet she died many years ago. But exactly when and how are questions that remain unanswered.

She was last seen taking off in a plane she piloted from Lae, Papau New Guinea in 1937, at the starting point of a particularly treacherous leg of her effort to be the first person to fly around the world at the equator.

Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were headed toward tiny Howland Island, where the Americans had constructed a landing strip.

Heidi Greco, a poet and Surrey resident, picks up the story in the introduction of her new book, Flightpaths: The Lost Journals of Amelia Earhart.

“Strange as it seems, some believe that Earhart may not have been in the plane that was the subject of the intensive search,” Greco writes, “as there have been reports of an identical craft parked near the runway at Lae, complete with a stand-in as its pilot.”

And so continues the Earhart mystery, upon which Greco aims to shed light by presenting a series of poems as if written by Earhart herself.

The book explores the realities, fantasies and possibilities about the fate of the legendary lost pilot, admired by Greco as an icon of feminism and pacifism.

She was ahead of her time in so many ways, Greco notes, right down to the no-nonsense clothes she wore – many of them fashioned after her own designs.

“She personified nontraditional womanliness and at a time when womanliness was only permitted to be conventional,” Greco said in a recent phone interview from Salt Spring Island, where she was visiting a friend. “She represented a wildly courageous spirit of adventure, and did so many things her own way. And really, she gave me permission to do so many things I do my own way.”

This summer marks the 120th anniversary of Earhart’s birth and the 80th anniversary of her disappearance, and Caitlin Press is marking the occasion by publishing Greco’s 96-page book.

“Grounded in facts, the pieces in this book fly on wings of imagination, speculating what might have become of the famous pilot,” writes Greco, a longtime South Surrey resident. “Although some outcomes may seem improbable, it is impossible to deny the possibility of any of them being true.”

Earhart was also a poet, and much of her prose was lost in a house fire in Rye, New York.

“I find that quite a tragedy, that so much of her work was gone, and maybe that’s why I did write these poems as if I were her,” Greco told the Now-Leader.

Flightpaths has been years in the making, she explained.

“One of the seeds of it was planted way back when I was in university and I saw a play called Chamber Music, at the theatre at SFU, written by a New York playwright named Arthur Kopit,” Greco explained. “The scenario of the play is a group of women in an asylum, all of whom believe they’re someone famous. There’s a Joan of Arc, a Queen Isabella of Spain, all these characters, but one of them keeps saying, ‘I really am Amelia Earhart,’ and that voice haunted me. I have to kind of credit Kopit for getting this going in a way, because there’s a section in the book where (Earhart) is incarcerated in an asylum.”

In Surrey, Greco will spread word about Flightpaths at a series of summer events. These include the monthly Surrey Muse gathering at City Centre Library on Friday, June 23, a “Word Arts LIVE!” event at Alexandra Neighbourhood House on June 25 and a “birthday” celebration for Earhart at City Centre Library on July 24. Elsewhere, other special events include a book launch at Langley Airport’s Canadian Museum of Flight on July 2 and a TWS Reading series event July 6 at Cottage Bistro in Vancouver.

Greco has a long history of championing the literary arts in Surrey. Among her most recent successes was convincing civic officials to create the position of Surrey Poet Laureate, the inaugural title of which was given to Renée Sarojini Saklikar in the fall of 2015. Saklikar continues in the role, and recently published Surrey Stories Connect: Teens & Seniors Write Surrey, a legacy project for her work in Surrey. The 112-page anthology tells the lived experiences of Surrey residents from the Cloverdale and Strawberry Hills areas of the city, as well as volunteers at Historic Stewart Farm in South Surrey.

The position of Surrey Poet Laureate was created after Greco was asked to serve as a resident poet of the city, in order for Surrey to participate in a cross-Canada poetry challenge in 2012.

“When I presented my poem, which was a commissioned one, to city council, I said I viewed it as a first step toward Surrey hiring an official poet laureate,” Greco explained. “I knew I didn’t want to do it, but they listened, and it went through the channels and committees and on and on, until (Surrey Libraries) took a hand in it, and then I sat on a committee to define the role and also in hiring (Saklikar), our wonderful first poet laureate. Her time has been extended for a third year, and I suppose soon the call will go out for someone to replace Renée, who will have left big shoes for anyone else to fill.”

So what about Greco in that role?

“I don’t ever want to do it – no, no, no,” Greco replied with a laugh. “My husband (photographer George Omorean) is retired and I want to travel and play.”

As for Flightpaths, the book title is significant, Greco said.

“I read a lot of books about Earhart, and some of them were pretty crazy and some were just packed with information and theories about her, and internet research also helped so much with this project,” she explained. “I actually went to Harbour Grace in Newfoundland and stood on the field where she’d once taken off, and I did indeed stand on a rock where I thought, ‘I bet she put her foot on this rock before she took off.’ I’ve also gone several times now to the Amelia Earhart birthplace museum in Atchison, Kansas, and staff there have been immensely helpful by sharing documents and stories and willing to talk for hours, very helpful.”

With the 120th anniversary of Earhart’s birth upon us, Greco is “pretty sure she did perish along the way. It’s just that there are so many wild theories about her and the way she died. A lot of people believe she’s buried in Minnesota or Montana, or she somehow evaded death in 1937. It’s one big mystery.”

Of note, book publisher Caitlin Press will celebrate 40 years of feminist publishing during a party on Friday (June 16) at the Sunshine Coast Arts Council space in Sechelt. Visit caitlin-press.com for details.

tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

 

Cover of Heidi Greco’s new book, Flightpaths: The Lost Journals of Amelia Earhart.

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