|Susan Butler was a journalist writing for The
New York Times and looking for an American woman to write a biography
about when she settled on Amelia Earhart. Amelia Earhart was the looming
absent genius of the household when Butler was growing up. Butler’s mother,
Grace Liebman, started flying in the 1930s, and in the 1940s she helped
patrol the New Jersey coast, looking for German submarines which were menacing
the coast. Liebman was as well a member of the Ninety Nines, the flying
organization Amelia Earhart had helped found; she had met Earhart.
Butler spent ten years on the biography. She spent many days at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard where the Earhart papers are, interviewed Fay Gillis Welles, one of the last living members of the Ninety Nines, tracked down relatives of Amelia Earhart who had never been found before, was given access to family papers nobody knew existed, and found the lost biography written by Amelia Earhart’s friend Janet Mabie, which everyone had been looking for for the past fifty years.
According to the The New York Times “The mountain of new material it marshals guarantees East to the Dawn a permanent place on the shelf of Amelia Earhart references.”
When Gore Vidal, who had known Amelia Earhart well, read East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart he said, “Of the dozen or so books (mostly wild fantasies) that I have read about Amelia Earhart, susan Butler’s is the only one which re-creates accurately that singular woman whom my father was in love with, as indeed was I, aged ten, when the lady vanished.”
Susan Butler was interviewed by Brian Lamb on his Sunday evening television program Booknotes. She is included, along with other biographers such as Katherine Graham, Robert Caro and Joseph Ellis in Lamb’s book Booknotes: Life Stories: Notable biographers on the People Who Shaped America.