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Fire on the Track

Fire on the Track by Roseanne Montillo
Hardcover
Oct 17, 2017 | 304 Pages
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    Oct 17, 2017 | 304 Pages

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    Oct 17, 2017 | 304 Pages

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Praise

A Fall 2017 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection

“This inspiring story of trail-blazing women centers on Betty Robinson, the first female Olympic champion in track. Roseanne Montillo’s retelling makes for a riveting book that reveals how a group of indefatigable women triumphed at the 1932 Los Angeles games.”
—Entertainment Weekly



“Fascinating… Montillo is a brilliant storyteller…an engaging, insightful look at an era in women’s sports.”
Publishers Weekly

“A tightly woven, flowing narrative… Just as Laura Hillenbrand, in Unbroken, earned acclaim for resurrecting the life of Louis Zamperini, an overlooked American war hero and Olympian, Montillo deserves praise for sharing with honesty and integrity the remarkable stories of these resilient trailblazers. This is a must-read, certain to inspire a new generation of athletes with its fascinating slice of Olympic and women’s sports history.”
Booklist (starred)

“Rich… this well-balanced biography and history of a groundbreaking female track star recalls a time and an athlete worth celebrating. Sports enthusiasts and women’s history buffs will be captivated by Robinson and her fellow trailblazers. Montillo’s in-depth research and highly accessible style make this a timely and appropriate choice for public and school libraries.”
Library Journal

Fire on the Track tells the powerful story of one woman’s success in breaking an early glass ceiling in women’s Olympic sports.  The triumph, tragedy, and redemption that punctuated Betty Robinson’s life present a commentary on 1930’s America and the trailblazing courage of ordinary women to change the country’s thinking about the abilities of their gender. Using anecdote and insight, Montillo has written an important book, bringing to light a resonant piece of history.
Lucinda Franks, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of Timeless: Love, Morgenthau and Me 

“Roseanne Montillo has written a must-read, exhilarating story about a remarkable time in American sports history when women proved that they could be champions. Going against cultural expectations, these athletes managed to achieve greatness during the toughest of times. Betty Robinson is a hero for the ages. Her breathtaking journey from catastrophe to ultimate victory made me stand up and cheer!”
Lydia Reeder, author of Dust Bowl Girls

“Here’s an uplifting new entry for your shelf of Olympics inspiration. Male rowers have Boys in the Boat and female runners now have Fire on the Track. The dawn of women’s track comes to life in history that reads like fiction, brimming with character and drama.” 
—William Martin
, New York Times bestselling author of  Cape Cod and The Lincoln Letter   

Author Q&A

A conversation with
Roseanne Montillo,
author of
FIRE ON THE TRACK
(Crown; on sale October 17, 2017)
 

 
How did you first discover Betty Robinson’s story?  What drew you to her?
 
I discovered Betty’s tale while working on my previous book, The Wilderness of Ruin. I was delving into local (mostly Boston-area, as well as many New York-area) newspapers and noticed that many of those publications were dedicating some space to the Olympic tryouts taking place over the 1928 Fourth of July weekend in New Jersey. The stories were somewhat unusual, as they covered the first young women to participate in Olympic track and field trials, women who were all hoping to compete at the upcoming Games in Amsterdam. Shamefully, I had never heard of these athletes, and they intrigued me. The idea that they were going to be the first ones in this sport to make it to the Olympics was appealing and riveting, and though I was still involved in finishing up my other book, I took the time to read a little bit about them. Of course, Betty’s story was the most amazing, and I knew I had to write about her eventually, as well as about the other women who had been a part of this revolutionary movement.
 
Betty’s achievements are groundbreaking for many reasons—what was most surprising to you? 
 
Most surprising to me was how history had forgotten the women, leaving Betty by the wayside.  She achieved so much, yet few even remember her. I had read books about the birth of the modern Olympics and works that claimed to be the definitive history of the Olympics, yet Betty and the other female participants in the 1928 Amsterdam Games were not even mentioned. They were completely erased. 
 
Can you describe the research you did while writing FIRE ON THE TRACK?  What did you learn that was new or surprising to you?
 
Libraries and archives from across the country and abroad provided the bulk of the material. While these athletes were not necessarily well known, their achievements and exploits are well documented. I spoke to family members, friends, and acquaintances of the women I profiled, and they added more information to the material I had already discovered. What I learned that would surprise anyone, I think, was how modern these athletes were. Although the narrative takes place almost a century ago, the things they were dealing with are not unlike what young people go through today: the desire to be individuals and live authentic lives; in many instances, when relating to sports, their wish to be known simply as athletes and not female athletes; the ups and downs of being teenagers and negotiating becoming adults; issues of gender and sexuality; dealing with biases in what is typically a male-dominated environment; learning how to balance their relationships with their own desires to succeed. Many teenagers and young adults, whether in an athletic environment or not, deal with this on any given day.   
 
 
Although Betty Robinson is the focus of the book, it’s also a group portrait of her teammates and fellow competitors.  How did you decide which women to focus on?
 
It was easy to choose Betty as the focus of the book. Not only was she the first woman to win the inaugural track and field medal (a gold, no less) awarded at an Olympic game, but her life afterward, with her near-fatal accident and her recuperation, is inspirational. I also wanted to showcase those who not only managed to win medals, but athletes from diverse backgrounds.  Tidye Pickett and Louise Stokes, two of the first female African-American runners, dealt with racism. Stella Walsh was the daughter of immigrants and grappled with gender-identity issues, which influenced how she related to her teammates. Helen Stephens knew from a young age that she was a lesbian but kept it to herself for many years. Babe Didrikson, herself the daughter of immigrants, dealt not only with poverty but also with not fitting into the era’s so-called feminine ideal. All of these women provided both a personal and social window into the times.  
  
 
You previously taught literature.  How did that inform your narrative nonfiction writing?
 
My students have taught me as much as I have taught them. And one of the things I took away from my years of teaching was that aside from being educated, they also wanted to be entertained. The books my students (from the college freshmen to the adult education student) enjoyed the most provided not only knowledge on a topic they were unfamiliar with, but also a completely enrapturing narrative. In writing FIRE ON THE TRACK, I wanted readers to learn about the athletes, about track, and about the Olympics, and also to feel as if they were part of the races themselves, to feel as if they knew these women well enough to care about them and what would happen to them—to be completely invested in their lives and their stories.
 
What other writers or historians do you read or admire?
 
It goes without saying that I read the works of Erik Larson and Laura Hillenbrand. I’m actually waiting impatiently for Hillenbrand’s next book, as I’m sure it will be another great one. David McCullough is fantastic, and digging into one of his books is always an education. Recently, I reread The Peabody Sisters, by Megan Marshall. She teaches at Emerson College, where I also taught for several years, and I can attest she’s a wonderful human being as much as she is a wonderful writer.
 
What do you hope readers will take away from FIRE ON THE TRACK and Betty’s story?
 
I would like readers to have an enjoyable reading experience as well as a better understanding that women’s stories were as relevant throughout history as they are today. They should not be overlooked or forgotten. Women have made great contributions in sports, the arts, and the sciences, and they have advanced us in every other arena; more of these stories need to be discovered, shared, valued, and appreciated. The more these women are celebrated, their stories won’t seem so anomalous. They are a testament not to just female determination, but to the triumph of the human spirit—regardless of gender.
 

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