Donna Cross
Book Speaker
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Donna Cross

Fee Range1: $ 2500 - $5000

Pope Joan: Fascinating Mystery of History


Arts/Culture/MusicAuthorHistorySpouse ProgramsWomen in Society


Syracuse, NY


Donna Cross

Donna CrossPope Joan: Fascinating Mystery of History

Talk about “Meet Cute”:   Donna’s parents (William and Dorothy Woolfolk) met when he was writing Superman comics and she was writing Lois Lane. (Later, both moved on to write novels and TV scripts).  As the daughter of two writers, Donna felt destined (or as she says,  “doomed”) from birth for the writing life. 

After graduation from the University of Pennsylvania in 1969, she moved to London, England and worked as an editorial assistant for W.H. Allen, a small publishing house on Fleet Street, where part of her job was to read–and usually reject–submitted manuscripts  (most memorable–a verse poem in ten volumes on the life of Admiral Lord Nelson–written by a Texan!!!)

Upon her return to the United States, Donna worked at Young and Rubicam, a Madison Avenue advertising firm, helping to write toilet paper commercials (“for the greater good of humankind”, as she says).  This job taught her a lot about how a clever , well-trained wordsmith can twist words in order to deceive.  The knowledge she gained from her time in the advertising world led to her book “Word Abuse:  How the Words We Use Use Us.”, a hilarious look at how many professions–advertisers, lawyers, doctors, politicians–use words to deliberately mislead the rest of us. 

After two more books on the uses of language  (“Speaking of Words”, “Mediaspeak”), she made the leap to historical fiction with her novel “Pope Joan”, an international bestseller translated into 32 languages and recently turned into a movie starring John Goodman, Johanna Wokalek, and David Wenham.  The film had its world premiere last fall in Berlin and is currently scheduled for U.S. release in 2010.

Critical Praise for “Pope Joan”: 

“It is so gratifying to read about those rare heroes whose strength of vision enables them to ignore the almost overpowering messages of their own historical periods…Pope Joan has all the elements one wants:  love, duplicity, and long-buried secrets…”  Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A fascinating and moving account of a woman’s determination to learn, despite the opposition of family and society.  Highly recommended.”  Library Journal Starred Review

“Pope Joan reveals the harsh realities of the Dark Ages.  Logic and reason are shunned as dangerous ideas, and women are considered useful only as men’s servants and child bearers.  The novel explores the extraordinary life of an independent, intelligent and courageous woman who overcomes oppression and ascends to the highest level of religious power.”  San Francisco Chronicle

“The life of an intelligent, headstrong woman in 9th century Europe, the kind of woman who might have dared such an adventure in an era when obedience was woman’s most admired trait.  Cross grounds her fascinating tale in a wealth of rich historical detail.”   Orlando Sentinel

 Synopsis of “Pope Joan”

“For a Thousand years her existence has been denied.  She is the legend that will not die–Pope Joan, the ninth-century woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to become the only female ever to sit on the throne of St. Peter. In thes riveting novel, Donna Woolfolk Cross paints a sweeping portrait of an unforgettable heroine who struggles against restrictions her soul cannot accept.

Brilliant and talented, young Joan rebels against medieval social strictures forbidding women to learn.  When her brother is brutally killed during a Viking attack, Joan takes up his cloak–and his identity–and enters the monastery of Fulda.  As Brother John Anglicus, Joan distinguishes herself as a great scholar and healer.  Eventually, she is drawn to Rome, where she becomes enmeshed in a dangerous web of love, passion, and politics.  Triumphing over appalling odds, she finally attains the highest office in Christendom–wielding a power greater than any woman before or since. 

But such power always comes at a price…

In this international bestseller, Cross brings the Dark Ages to life in all their brutal splendor and shares the dramatic story of a woman whose strength of vision led her to defy the social restrictions of her day.


 Donna Woolfolk Cross Topics: 

“Pope Joan:  Fascinating Mystery of History”

“No Wonder Everyone in Hollywood is on Crack Cocaine!  An Author’s Inside Take on Turning a Book into a Movie”

“Word Abuse:  How the Words We Use Use Us”

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