Last year around this time, I visited the American Library (then known as the Second Air Division Memorial Library), located in the Forum, catercorner to the colorful stalls of Norwich Market, to hear a colleague in UEA’s creative-critical PhD program read her work at an event organized by library scholar Dr. Linda Sheppard. At that time, I had no inkling that I was to be a 2020-21 American Library Scholar alongside Margaret Sessa-Hawkins, also a postgraduate researcher (as PhD students are known) in the University of East Anglia’s Literature, Drama and Creative Writing department. I’d landed in Norwich from New York just a few weeks before and was trying to find my feet. It was a good sign that I was completely charmed by this medieval market town with its ancient city walls, winding river, a castle, two cathedrals and warm, welcoming people.
I’d already known about the American Library’s mission to memorialize the lives and service of the 2nd Air Division personnel stationed in East Anglia during WWII. My interest was personal: my father, Flight Officer Eugene L. Solomon, was stationed at Grafton-Underwood during the war, part of the Eighth Air Force, 41st Combat Bombardment Wing, 1st Bombardment Division, 384th Bomb Group (Heavy). He’d signed up as soon as he came of age, in 1943, and qualified to fly B-17s. Co-piloting ‘Hell’s Messenger’, his squadron had the distinction of dropping the final bombs of the war on Axis industrial targets (the Skoda Armament Works) on 25 April 1945. I often look at the silk escape map that was among his war memorabilia, along with his U.S. Army Air Corps pilot’s wings. My younger brother’s family also has some of these items, and my nephews created a shadow box to preserve his history.
I would soon learn about the Library’s role as a center of American culture and literature. I’m an American postgraduate researcher in crime fiction, with a background in law and publishing. Born in Miami, Florida, I obtained my juris doctor from the University of Florida, and, after a successful career as a legal editor and writer in New York City, moved to Norwich to pursue a PhD in creative-critical writing. My thesis is a feminist re-examination of the femme fatale figure in noir fiction, paired with a novel about a trio of teenaged grifters reunited as adults. Noir fiction would’ve played a big part in the paperbacks the troops read during the war, along with their adaptions in the films they watched, with femmes fatales in the starring roles.
That reading I attended in the autumn of 2019 was fabulous, chock full of the talent UEA’s creative writing program is justly known for, including my colleague (now Dr.) Elspeth Latimer. I walked out energized and ready to meet the challenges ahead in a year that would bring many, including a global pandemic. In the spring of 2020, encouraged by my academic supervisors, Professor Henry Sutton and Dr. Nonia Williams, I put in my application for the UEA American Library scholarship. Fast-forward to October of 2020, as I begin my year as a library scholar, including writing this, my first blog post for the Library. While my dad passed away in 2009, I’m certain he would have been proud and gratified at how his service has inspired me. I am thrilled to have been selected for this honor and look forward to contributing to the American Library’s cultural, historical and memorial mission.