B.A., The Evergreen State College, 1975; M.A. in Poetics, New College of California 1991
Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Journalism
Since publishing my new book in October 2011, I've been touring universities, aviation museums, and aviation history archives and libraries, giving slideshow presentations and talks on the Cadettes (918 women aero-engineers whose story was buried after WWII; my mother was one of them). This fall (2012) I'm giving two dinner lectures in Ohio, one in Columbus at Ohio State University to the Columbus Technical Society; another in Cleveland to members of the International Women's Air and Space Museum. I usually bring between 2 and 5 Cadettes from the local areas where I present and the response has been fantastic. Planning next to present on both coasts.
I've been writing constantly since graduation but most recently have published a 6-CD audiobook, two of which I donated to the Evergreen library in 2004 ("The ODASea: A Night Sea Journey"). I started a small audiobook publishing company called Wild Hare Press which has samples of "The ODASea." I've also done a series of radio shows on gay/lesbian/bi writers ("Song of Ourselves") for an NPR affiliate, and all of those shows are available on my website.
In the early 80s I co-managed, emceed, and performed at a performance art cabaret in Seattle called the Kit Kat Club. In 1991 I received an M.A. in Poetics from New College of California (San Francisco). My masters thesis ("The Poetics of Voudoun") is about the transmission of African spirituality through the Caribbean to the southern United States via the oral tradition. (A digital copy is available upon request.)
After living for 18 years in formerly beautiful and pastoral Sonoma County, California, I relocated to the mountains of northern New Mexico (Taos) in September 2005. I am currently in the process of resurrecting my audiobook publishing studio and expect to begin recording "Adventures with the Wild Hare" later this year. "Adventures" is a series of global travelogues and observations of alternative American cultures. I'm also working on a longish performance monologue entitled "The Otter's Tale," which combines video, music, and live reading. I expect to finish this in 2007 and begin performing it in 2008.
In February 1943, the Curtiss-Wright Airplane Company, then America’s largest aircraft manufacturer, began training and employing women in aeronautical engineering. These “Sisters of Icarus,” 900 women engineers who stayed firmly on the ground perfecting planes while their brothers flew into combat (and all too frequently went down in flames), were known as the Curtiss-Wright Engineering Cadettes. My mother, Ricki Cruse Lenthe, was one of them.
This story is my attempt to assemble a clearer picture about her life as a Cadette, the lifelong friends she made during that time, and the door that opened during World War II, if only briefly, for women to co-create the shape of aviation.
After a diligent search for historical documents, two dozen interviews with surviving Cadettes and Curtiss-Wright male employees, and hours of discussion with some of my mother’s closest Cadette friends, I know that what these female engineers accomplished—in the universities and in the airplane plants—contained the seeds of a bona fide revolution. In an amazingly short period of time (February 1943 through August 1945), they proved the capability of women in a field that had previously been labeled male-only territory. They also bailed out a company whose planes were vital to winning World War II. Without them, the war would have dragged on even longer.
Cadette engineers labored six days a week in five different Curtiss-Wright plants, as well as in the company’s research lab in Buffalo, New York. But at the end of the war, company management treated their vital contributions as a mere wartime aberration. Forgotten were all the promises of promoting the Cadettes and helping them upgrade to full “graduate engineer” status “when the peace for which we are all fighting is won.” But the Cadettes knew their value. If they hadn’t been forced to by law and company pressure, a great many of them would not have gone home after the war.
Like the skewed or minimized record of other thwarted revolutions (usually demoted to “revolts” by the writers of history), the pages describing the Cadette Program in detail were cut from Curtiss-Wright’s WWII record with such a razor-sharp edge that you almost can’t tell they were ever there. This aviation mega-company that the Cadettes helped salvage from its own engineering deficiencies in a time of national crisis retained no documentation of their impressive achievements. In fact, corporate memory of the Cadettes is now so well excised that a few years ago an employee at Curtiss-Wright corporate headquarters responded to an inquiry about the Cadettes with indignation: “We don’t know who in the world you’re talking about. It’s certainly not our Curtiss-Wright.”
The military’s “fog of amnesia” is almost as dense. Neither the Navy nor the Army remembers approving the training initially; nor do they recall that inspectors of naval aircraft (INAs) in the Columbus plant signed off on the work of Cadettes who had competently inspected both sub- and final airframe assemblies.
The ODASea: A Night Sea Journey (Wild Hare Press, 2003) -- a 6-CD audiobook (available at TESC library and at the Wild Hare Press website)
How Did Evergreen Help You in Your Career?
It exposed me to the infinite world of imaginative scholarship, which is still (sometimes) way too big...