On Thursday 17 May at 19h30, we look forward to welcoming Ambassador Stapleton to the Library to discuss his book Where Liberty Dwells. His co-author Louise McCready answers a few questions about everything from French-American relations to her advice to writers.
Where did you do most of the research for this book?
I conducted almost all of the research for this book in Paris during the summers of 2006 and 2007. The first resource I used was Ambassador Stapleton’s own extensive library. He amassed quite the collection of 20th Century presidential biographies and historical books on Franco-American relations, France, and the two World Wars. The ambassadors included in “Where Liberty Dwells” were frequently mentioned and cross-referenced in these books due to their close relationship with the US presidents and their pivotal role in world events. I visited the American Embassy’s library for encyclopedias and archived Embassy newsletters, and the American Library in Paris provided many other helpful books. Research engines like Nexis Lexis and ProQuest were invaluable for capturing a sense of the current events in the lives of these ambassadors. Steve Englund, a prolific published of French history and professor at the American University of Paris, visited the French National Archives to provide us with additional French sources.
Did your degree in French help you on this project? If so, how?
My degree in French helped me to the extent that I had taken a number of courses on French History and Franco-American relations, so I had a great deal of background knowledge of 20th Century events as they pertained to the book.
What were some of the challenges you had in working on this book?
One of the greatest challenges was reconciling the difference in degree of the amount of subject material available between the better and lesser known ambassadors. While each of them was important in his own way, only a few published autobiographies or were the subject of biographies and on the opposite of the spectrum, a few had very little written about them.
What surprised you the most in researching French-American relations?
The lack of compromise on the part of both the US and France in the years immediately following their joined efforts in World War II was surprising. Can you believe Charles de Gaulle did not meet with any member of the US Embassy in France for seven years because of a perceived slight? Or that no one from the US Embassy decided it was in their country’s best interests to insist upon a meeting? That would be unheard of today.
Which ambassador was the most interesting to you?
That’s a tough question, but David K. E. Bruce is probably my favorite. The only American to serve as Ambassador to France, Germany, and Great Britian, Bruce was a true southern gentleman whose biography was entitled “The Last American Aristocrat.” Adroit in the field of diplomacy, his personal life was not without tragedy–his only daughter from his first marriage to Ailsa Mellon, daughter of Andrew Mellon, was presumed dead when the plane in which she was flying with her husband disappeared in 1967 and his only daughter from his second marriage to Evangeline Bell died mysteriously at the Bruce family home in 1975. Despite these personal misfortunes, Bruce was a strong and effective diplomat.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
During the second semester of my junior year at Penn, I had been accepted to the State Department summer internship at the US Embassy in France but was still waiting to hear back from Condé Nast regarding an internship at one of their magazines in New York. I spoke to a friend of a friend who was an editor at Gourmet. She told me, “You can always work at Condé Nast, but you can’t always live in Paris for the summer. Go to Paris!” Looking back, I realize just how true her wise words were. I had the lovely experience and opportunity of working in Paris with Ambassador Stapleton and I have been working for Condé Nast for a little more than three years now.
You have worked at several magazines such as Vogue and Gourmet. What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing work as a journalist?
If you are interested in pursuing work as a journalist, understand it will be extremely difficult. It is a competitive and ever changing field, and the pay isn’t great. That being said, if you love what you do and work hard, you can make it work. Because I did not intern at any magazines during college, I went to NYU Journalism School to gain experience. Internships are invaluable and take as many as possible, as early as possible. Start a blog. Freelance. Network with alumni, family, friends.
What’s next for you?
I am researching a book on “lost” bakeries across the US. The idea evolved from an Edible Brooklyn article I wrote about Ebinger’s Bakery, a family-run bakery known for its signature Blackout Chocolate Cake that closed its more than 50 locations after 74 years. Let me know if you know of any other bakeries that still evoke fond nostalgic memories!