- Posted February 15, 2011 by
Fort Meade, Maryland
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Salute to troops
Fort Meade media relations chief nominated for NAACP Image Award
Mary Doyle, chief of media relations for the Fort Meade Public Affairs Office, holds a copy of "I'm Still Standing," the biography she co-authored with former prisoner of war Shoshana Johnson. The book has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literary Work: Biography/Autobiography. (Photo by Joyce Brayboy).
By Rona Hirsch
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- With every chapter she wrote detailing Shoshana Johnson's captivity in the early days of the Iraq war, Mary Doyle feared she did not adequately portray Johnson's harrowing ordeal or capture its significance.
Johnson was the first African American woman to ever be held as a prisoner of war, and it happened during the first major ambush of the Iraqi invasion in 2003.
"I was writing pages and sending pages, and she was reviewing them for factual checks," said Doyle, chief of media relations for the Fort Meade Public Affairs Office. "And the whole time I was thinking it was an important project, that she had a real unique story to tell and a unique perspective. And I knew it was a story that people would read. And the whole time I was scared that I couldn't do it, that I couldn't live up to the challenge."
But less than a year since its publication, "I'm Still Standing," co-authored by Johnson and Doyle, has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literary Work: Biography/Autobiography.
"I feel I must have done something right," said Doyle, 51, who resides in Baltimore. "Shana has always thanked me; she has always been very proud of the final product. But still, I wanted other people to see her story and appreciate it. That's why this validates it."
The 42nd NAACP Image Awards will be presented March 4 at the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Center in Los Angeles and broadcast live at 8 p.m. on Fox television. According to its website, "the muticultural awards show celebrates the outstanding achievements and performances of people of color in the arts."
But the competition for the biography/autobiography category is pretty stiff: Nelson Mandela, Condoleeza Rice, Ray Charles Jr. and rapper Jay-Z.
"It's an honor to be in their company," said Johnson from her home in El Paso, Texas. "I'm nominated with Nelson Mandela and that keeps going through my head. He was in captivity 26 years, and I was in captivity 22 days."
Submissions for all 53 categories of the Image Awards are taken from the arts industry including television studios, recording companies, publishers and agents. This year, there were 1,300 submissions overall. A select committee of 300 chose the nominees in all categories except literary.
"Literary is a unique category," said a spokesperson for the NAACP Hollywood Bureau. "In the other categories, a singer or actor can submit a nomination."
Literary encompasses eight categories. Each of those categories has a subcommittee of four to five panelists handpicked by the literary manager and the executive director of the Hollywood Bureau. This year, the biography/autobiography subcommittee selected the top five books out of 15 submitted by publishers. Winners in all 53 categories will be voted on by the entire NAACP membership. The vote closes Feb. 23.
"If we win, Shana will do all the talking," Doyle said.
A native of Minneapolis, Doyle is a former sergeant first class who served 17 years in the Army Reserve after enlisting in 1979. Her father, former Staff Sgt. Loran Doyle, was a tanker in World War II who served in one of Gen. George S. Patton's all-black tank battalions and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Her mother, former Sgt. Ruth Doyle, was a medical technologist for the Women's Army Corps. Her younger brother, Larry Doyle, is a retired colonel in the Army Reserve.
"I enlisted because my brother said I could never make it in basic training and I wanted to prove him wrong," she said.
Doyle first came to Fort Meade in 2004 as a broadcaster for Meade TV. From 2007 to 2009, she was the command information chief for Armed Forces Network Korea in Yongsan. In 2008, Doyle, who has written plays and short stories, wrote a novel, "The Peacekeeper's Photograph," which is set in Bosnia during a peacekeeping mission.
"I shopped the novel around to literary agents and was able to get one interested in the book," she said. "She discussed it with an editor with Simon and Schuster who was looking for a writer for Shana's book. Since I write military fiction, and because my main character is a female Soldier, my agent suggested that I might be able to write Shana's book."
Touchstone, a subsidiary of Simon and Schuster, had already hired a writer who turned in a manuscript on Johnson's story. "But they weren't happy with it," Doyle said. "The writer was not a woman and had no military background; they had style and fact issues with his manuscript."
Doyle was given background information and some interview tapes made by the previous writer. Working in Korea at the time, Doyle conducted her interviews with Johnson by e-mail and telephone. After submitting sample chapters in January 2009, Doyle was hired and told to have a first draft completed by August. The publication date had already been set for February 2010.
"So for eight months, every night and every holiday, I just strapped myself to my computer and worked," Doyle said. "During the process, I'm listening to these tapes and I'm calling Shana and interviewing her via Skype [on the Internet] and over the phone."
Near the project's end in July 2010, Doyle flew to El Paso to meet with Johnson, who medically retired from the military in 2003. A former Army cook for the 507th Maintenance Company, Johnson had been shot in both ankles when her convoy, which included Pfc. Jessica Lynch, was taken captive in Nasiriyah.
But the project weighed heavily on Doyle. "I was in Germany when the war kicked off and I remember hearing about the ambush, and seeing the video of Shana," Doyle recalled. "She looked so frightened. And I remember just feeling petrified for her. ... I felt so responsible about telling the story in a way that would do her justice."
A "nationwide seller," according to publisher Simon and Schuster, "I'm Still Standing" sold out of the national chains and will be released in paperback next month.
"I'm very grateful to Mary, telling my story the way I wanted it," said Johnson, a culinary arts student. "She did a beautiful job. She let my voice be heard."
Currently, Doyle is working on the second novel in her mystery series, "The Engineer's Tomb." She was also offered to write a memoir of Brig. Gen. Julia J. Cleckley, the first African American female line officer to be promoted to brigadier general in the Army National Guard.
For now, Doyle is preparing for the Image Awards. "Win or lose, it's an honor," she said. "But it sure would be great to have one of those statues."