Writing the Heavenly Frontier

Metaphor, Geography, and Flight Autobiography in America 1927-1954


Writing the Heavenly Frontier celebrates the early voices of the air as it examines the sky as a metaphorical and political landscape. While flight histories usually focus on the physical dangers of early aviation, this book introduces the figurative liabilities of ascension. Early pilot-writers not only grappled with an unwieldy machine; they also grappled with poetics that were extremely selective. Tropes that cast Charles Lindbergh as the transcendent hero of the new millennium were the same ones that kept women, black Americans, and indigenous peoples imaginatively tethered to the ground. The most popular flight autobiographies in the United States posited a hero who rose from the mundane to the miraculous; and yet the most startling autobiographies point out the social factors that limited or forbade vertical movement—both literally and figuratively. A survey of pilot writing, the book will appeal to flight enthusiasts and people interested in American autobiography and culture. But it will also appeal strongly to readers interested in the poetics and politics of place.

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List of Illustrations
Introduction: Writing the Heavenly Frontier
The Mundane to the Miraculous
Imaginative Geographies and the Invention of the Aerial Subject
From Pilot to Poet: The Transformation of Lindbergh
Polar Frontiers and Public Fictions: Skyward with Richard E. Byrd
The Colors of the Earth and the Sanctity of Space
Autobiographical Demands and Historical Realities
Jimmy Collins and the Tethers of Materiality
Flight as Emancipation: William J. Powell’s Dream of Black Wings
Masculine Spaces and Women Flyers
The Flying Boudoir
The Sound of Wings: Autobiographies by Amelia Earhart
Louise Thaden and the Tethers of Motherhood
Flight as Upward Mobility: Jackie Cochran and the Stars at Noon
Aerial Geographies and Imperial Discourses
Transcendence Abroad
Cultivating the Garden: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and the Noble Struggle
Escaping the Wilderness: Anne Morrow Lindbergh and the Epic Journey
Epilogue: Late Century Metaphors: Larry Walters and the Rich Man’s Wedding Cake