BY WALTER VILLA, MIAMI HERALD
In 2000, Linda Pauwels became a pioneer pilot, the first Latin woman ever to captain an American Airlines flight.
Now she’s a pioneer poet, too.
Last year, she authored “Beyond Haiku: Pilots Write Poetry.” In the 50-page book, she incorporated the contributions of 40 pilots, including her own prose. She also asked the children of pilots — ages 6 to 17 — to contribute illustrations to accompany the poems. She used the work of 18 artists.
Weston’s Liz Booker, the founder of the Aviatrix Book Review website — which details more than 500 books of all genres that feature women in aviation — was impressed with “Beyond Haiku.”
“The book is the first of its kind that I’m aware of,” said Booker, a retired Coast Guard helicopter pilot. “I’ve seen poetry books by a pilot. But I’ve never seen a collection of poems from different pilots, especially with children doing the artwork.”
Pauwels got the idea for the book last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic crippled the airline industry, leaving many families hurting. To help, Pauwels is donating all proceeds from the book to the Allied Pilots Association’s Emergency Relief and Scholarship Fund, which works in support of furloughed pilots and their families.
In the first three months since publication, Pauwels has been able to raise $2,200.
But Pauwels, a 57-year-old part-time Miami resident, has only just begun. She has written a second book, “Beyond Haiku: Women Pilots Write Poetry,” which is set to be released this summer.
She is also still an active pilot for American Airlines. In fact, on March 8, to promote International Women’s Day as well as her second poetry book, the plan is that she will captain a flight from Miami to Dallas. The entire crew will be female, including Pauwels’ first officer as well as eight flight attendants.
“The March 8 flight will bring back memories,” Pauwels said. “I was part of American’s second all-female crew in 1989. The first one was in 1987.”
COMING TO MIAMI
Born in Argentina, Pauwels lost her father when she was 6 years old. Within four months, Pauwels’ mother, Mabel, moved the family to Miami, where Linda dreamed of becoming a doctor.
But after Mabel started working at Miami International Airport as a traffic and operations agent for TACA Airlines, Pauwels’ interest in flight grew.
Pauwels, while working a night shift at the front desk of a Miami Beach hotel, was also a full-time, straight-A student at Miami Dade College’s Career Pilot/Flight Engineer program. She graduated from MDC in 1985, and American Airlines hired her in 1988 as a flight engineer on a Boeing 727.
Her interest in writing goes back a long way. In fact, she was the Orange County Register’s first aviation columnist in the mid-2000s.
Pauwels, who speaks Spanish, English and French, has a graduate degree in education. She will soon dive into Mandarin so she can be ready to resume piloting American’s post-COVID-19 flights to China.
Pauwels’ main residence is in the Dallas area, where American is headquartered. She recently got caught up in mid-February’s Texas snowstorm.
A married mother of two adult children, Pauwels and her husband were without power for four days during the storm. Outside their doors were 8 inches of snow. Inside, with the thermometer reading 37 degrees, Pauwels wrote two haikus, including:
Three mourning doves
Sit, puffy chested
Snowy bamboo fence
SOFTER SIDE OF PILOTS
Pauwels admits poetry is not known to be popular among mostly male aviators.
But she also thought writing haikus could help pilots deal with the stress of the job.
“Pilots live in a world of structure — we fly by the rules,” Pauwels said. “This book deconstructs some of that rigidity and allows the people on the other side of the cockpit doors to see that there is a softer side to the men and women who fly.”
As for her book’s artwork, Pauwels said she knew “poems alone wouldn’t cut it, and I wanted to give children an opportunity to create in their own style.”
Callista Chabot, a 17-year-old from New Hampshire, is drawing the cover illustration for Pauwels’ second book. The illustration depicts a butterfly riding on the nose of an airplane.
“I like the contrast between masculinity and femininity,” said Chabot, whose father, Jason, is a captain.
Chabot, who dreams of writing and illustrating her own children’s books one day, said she was thrilled to be selected for a book by women poets.
“I’m a strong feminist,” she said. “To get to work on a project written by women who work in a male-dominated industry is cool.”
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