The Long Road to Telling Cathy's Tale
Author Sarah Bird's journey from overheard story to screenplay to book
Sarah Bird first learned about Cathy Williams around 1980, but it took her decades to finally write the book.
While researching rodeo subcultures, Bird overheard some cowboys talking about a woman that served as a Buffalo Soldier. She didn't know if the story was true until 1988 when she met a kindergarten teacher named Pam Black, who mentioned the story to Bird and brought her copies of Williams' enlistment certificate and other documentation to prove it.
Bird started researching and, as she told the Austin American-Statesman, began to feel inhabited by Williams. She was still hesitant to write a novel because she writes in first person and, as a white writer fictionalizing the story of an African-American woman, didn't want to appear to culturally appropriate. She decided Williams' story could be told through film. So she wrote a screenplay, but it didn't go anywhere.
Then in 2015, she entered the screenplay in a contest started by Meryl Streep for female screenwriters over 40. It was accepted, which led to meetings with directors and producers, but still nothing. Groups raised funds to produce the film with an African-American female director, but the financing fell through. Still, Bird couldn't stop hearing Williams' voice. So she gave in and wrote her story as a book. It was accepted at St. Martin's Press – a new publishing house for Bird – where the author was able to work with an editor who was an African-American woman, Monique Patterson. Bird has called Patterson "the greatest gift" she had in getting Cathy Williams' story told.
Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen was released Sept. 4.