Candice Millard, ’89, beamed as Baker students Michelle Critchfield, Laney Holt, and Victoria Jones approached her book-signing table.
“You’re all students from Baker? I love Baker!” exclaimed Millard, a 1989 graduate and New York Times best-selling author. Behind them, a line of nearly 1,000 fans were happily exiting Unity Temple on the Country Club Plaza, Millard’s newest book in hand.
Baker Hero Among Us
More than a dozen Baker students, faculty, staff, and former trustees attended the launch event for Millard’s third offering: Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill. John Richards, Baker associate professor of history, was excited that Millard began her tour in Baker’s backyard and that the event included a meet-and-greet and audience Q&A.
“It was awesosome!” he said. “I know the history students were excited to meet her. She’s such a prolific writer. I can’t wait to dig into this book about one of history’s greatest men.”
Critchfield, a senior history major set to graduate in May, said she appreciated the opportunity to meet Millard.
“It’s inspiring to know that such an amazing and accomplished author went to Baker University,” she said. “And, of course, I love that she was an Alpha Chi Omega!”
Millard was touched that the students drove more than an hour on a school night to meet her.
“It absolutely meant a lot to see those bright eyes and young faces,” she said. “I love the idea that my work might inspire them to go into history or writing. It can be tough to find your place in this profession, yes, but there are so many possibilities for those who really want it.”
An English major, Millard first honed her craft in Baldwin City under the tutelage of Dr. Virginia (Jones) Fambrough and Dr. Preston Fambrough, two longtime and now-retired faculty members.
“They weren’t married at the time, although we were always trying to hook them up,” Millard said. “Both loved what they did and cared so deeply about the written word, which really came across to their students. I was their department assistant. They were the type of faculty members who were able to instill in their students a love of learning. I just admire them so much; they were huge influences in my life.”
Millard grew up in a small town in Ohio and moved to the Kansas City area when her father started working at Sprint, just before her senior year of high school. She thought about returning to the Buckeye State for college until she was offered a journalism scholarship at Baker, where she was a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority and wrote for The Baker Orange.
“I loved Baker because it was small,” she said. “I sort of missed that small community, and I knew they had an amazing English department. I always knew I wanted to read and be surrounded by books.”
After graduation, Millard briefly considered teaching before beginning her graduate studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She earned a master’s degree in literature before landing what, at the time, was her dream job: editor at National Geographic magazine.
“National Geographic was my deepest education,” she said. “That was really my formation as a writer—learning not just about writing but also about research. Research is so fundamental to what I do, and that’s what National Geographic was all about: being curious about the world and making every effort to get things right when telling the story.”
Millard’s six years at the magazine in Washington, D.C., were spent mostly copyediting her peers’ work.
“I would beg and beg for them to give me an assignment,” she said. “Then when I did get to go out on assignment, it was always an amazing experience. I discovered how much I love wrestling with my own work. I was always more confident in how to make my own writing better.”
Two decades later, just a few days after her book event in Kansas City, Millard was one of four headliners at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., which is held annually at the United States Library of Congress.
“That was definitely the highlight of my tour,” she said. “To have Dr. Carla Hayden, the first woman of color to serve as the Librarian of Congress, introduce me was very exciting. There was a gala for the authors the night before, and I found myself sort of staring at Dr. Hayden, and then when she started talking about my book . . . I almost fainted! She was extraordinarily kind.”
A Brilliant Career
Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill hit bookshelves and Amazon carts in late September, and this week marks its eighth consecutive on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Millard is now three for three, as her first two works, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey and Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, drew international praise and catapulted her into the upper echelon of American writers.
Hero of the Empire chronicles Winston Churchill’s daring escape as a POW during the Boer War in South Africa. The narrative gives readers a glimpse into Churchill’s early life and boundless aspiration.
She first heard of Churchill’s remarkable journey 25 years ago while dining with Mark Uhlig, who would become her husband. At the time, Uhlig was a journalist with the New York Times and had spent a great deal of time covering South Africa in the 1980s.
“We were out to lunch and in normal conversation he said, ‘Did you know Winston Churchill was taken as a POW in South Africa and escaped?’ It was such an extraordinary story that it stayed in my mind all these years. So when I turned in my manuscript for my second book, I told Mark that I wanted to tell this story. It was so illuminating to look at this pivotal moment of Churchill’s life and understand who the man was—one of the most influential characters of the 20th century.”
Millard spent more than a year doing foundational research for Hero, traveling between the United Kingdom, South Africa, and the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri. Then, she spent the next year outlining the book into chapters and organizing the specific anecdotes she uncovered to tell a comprehensive narrative.
Jennifer Senior, a book critic for the New York Times, cited Millard’s knack for extrapolating often-overlooked details in her published praise: “On its face, Churchill’s role in the Second Boer War may not seem like a substantial enough subject for a book. Don’t be fooled. Over the years, Ms. Millard has made a stylish niche for herself, zooming in on a brief, pivotal chapter in the life of a historical figure and turning it into a legitimate feature-length production.”
Millard’s hometown Kansas City Star echoed Senior’s admiration, declaring the author’s third work riveting and meticulous: “Millard’s brilliant modus operandi is to identify a singular, little-explored event in a well-documented life. She then uses that very pointed story as a wedge that she drives into a person’s character, cracking it wide open in a manner usually reserved for fiction. And so it is with her account of young Churchill. Millard has no shortage of strengths as a writer, but particularly spectacular is her ability to make history and historical figures not only readable but absolutely relevant to contemporary writers.”
Millard is currently researching the subject for her fourth book, which, if history is any indication, will be another chart-topping must-read for historians and enthusiasts alike.
“My publisher won’t let me say much yet,” she told the crowd gathered at the signing. “But I will say that I’ve covered three extraordinary men in Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Garfield, and now, Winston Churchill, so I’d like to pursue a prominent female figure this time around.”