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Shannon McKenna Schmidt is the author of The First Lady of World War II: Eleanor Roosevelt's Daring Journey to the Frontlines and Back (Sourcebooks/May 2023). She is also the co-author of Novel Destinations: A Travel Guide to Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen’s Bath to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West, 2nd ed. (National Geographic) and Writers Between the Covers: The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads (Plume/Penguin Random House).

In addition, Shannon has written for National Geographic Traveler, Shelf Awareness, NPR.org, and other websites and publications, including an Arrive magazine cover story featuring President Bill Clinton. She has been a guest on Morning Joe, Studio 2/WHYY, and the Travel Show with Arthur & Pauline Frommer, and has spoken at the New York Public Library, the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, the Texas Book Festival, the Dallas Museum of Art, and other venues, including bookstores, libraries, and historic sites.

From 2010 through 2017, Shannon traveled full-time—first in the United States by RV and then backpacking around the globe. She now lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.

What is the story behind The First Lady of World War II?

I've always had an intense desire to travel. So much so that in 2010, I sold my city apartment and nearly all of my belongings and moved into an RV with my husband and our cat. A freelance writer, I worked from the road as we zig-zagged across the United States for four years, from Maine to the Everglades, from Utah's red rock canyons to the Pacific coast. Then, I downsized even further until all of my possessions fit into two backpacks I carried with me. The next round of adventures lasted three years and led from the white hill towns of Spain to the back roads of Cambodia, from the Namibian desert to New Zealand's Southern Alps.  

My passion for travel is how I came to write The First Lady of World War II. While reading a collection of "My Day," Eleanor Roosevelt's popular syndicated newspaper column, I came across a mention that she visited Australia during World War II. It was a fleeting mention, but my interest was immediately piqued because I had recently been to Australia and New Zealand. My first thought was amazement at the distance Eleanor traveled to get there. Even today, traveling to those countries from the United States is a long journey and far from comfortable on a commercial airliner. Now imagine flying all that way in a noisy, freezing military transport plane.

 

The journey to the Pacific theater had a tremendous impact on Eleanor. She called it soul-stirring and admitted several years later, "The Pacific trip left a mark from which I think I shall never be free." And yet it tends to be overshadowed in the larger scope of her life. But because of my own particular interest in travel, this aspect of her story really resonated with me. I connected with Eleanor the adventurer and wanted to present that side of her to readers and to illustrate how travel was an integral part of her life and her career.

 

Like Eleanor, I have an innate love of the road and keep my luggage light. Even though I once again have a permanent residence with space to store a suitcase, I still travel with the same trusty backpack.

Clockwise from top: skydiving in Moab, Utah; Diamond Head, Honolulu, Hawaii; London, England; sunrise at Angkor Wat, Cambodia; sunset in Ronda, Spain; Bangkok, Thailand; The Acropolis, Athens, Greece; Dubrovnik, Croatia.

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