The Words and Music Author Julia Cooke Is Escaping Through Right Now
In the era of Covid-19, you might think that Julia Cooke’s book Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), out this week, was inspired by a longing for air travel, but you’d be wrong. “What I really wanted to do was write about spies,” the Vermont-based journalist says about the origins of her research. It began after she met stewardesses from the iconic, now-shuttered Pan American World Airways seven years ago, during an event at Kennedy International Airport’s TWA Flight Center in New York, and decided to immerse herself in their former lives. “Everyone talks about how Pan Am was intricately connected with the U.S. government,” Cooke says. “It sent a lot of women to sensitive areas of the world, from Vietnam to Moscow.” (Such international destinations led to rumors that flight attendants worked for the C.I.A.)
Her book details the glamour and liberation of Pan Am’s female staff—who, between 1966 and 1975, had to speak two languages, hold a college degree, be under 26 years old, and weigh between 105 and 140 pounds to be hired—by telling the stories of their journeys. “They were magnetic,” Cooke says of the women she interviewed. “They talked with total authority about prime ministers as if they’d had martinis with them the day before.” To find out how the author travels, we recently asked Cooke about the media she packs in her carry-on, and what she’s reading, watching, and listening to now.