Thursday, May 14, 2009

Lily Burana, author of “I Love a Man in Uniform,” was banned from a book signing scheduled to take place April 24 at the United States Military Academy at West Point bookstore. Academy officials alluded to her former work as a stripper as the main reason for the decision to cancel the event. “If you type her name in the computer, you’re going to come to a lot of sites that you don’t want to go to,” said academy spokesman Col. Bryan Hilferty in a statement to the Times Herald-Record. “There’s nothing illegal about being a stripper, but is this the appropriate place?”

In an interview with The Washington Times, Ms. Burana was indignant, defiant and hurt about the cancellation. She ended her work as an exotic dancer in 1994 to become a writer. Moreover, since 2002, she has been a faithful Army spouse and an active member of the West Point community. Her episode as a stripper is “only one part” of her “life’s journey,” she said. Her book is by no means an endorsement of that lifestyle; instead, it details her role as an Army wife. She challenges anyone to Google her name: “You will see that it is predominantly associated with my writing career - including articles I wrote for the New York Times and Slate.” She has become recognized as an eloquent and candid spokesperson for the trials and tribulations of military families.

In the late 1980s, Ms. Burana embarked on a five-year stint as a stripper. She chose to “flirt with that darker edge” but soon realized that it was not “a healthy lifestyle.” Being a stripper is “fast money,” but not “easy money,” she said. Women in their 20s who choose that path may not recognize that it comes with a stigma that lingers and limits opportunities, according to the author. “That kind of work exacts a profound toll that will affect your future.”

Ms. Burana’s story is essentially one of redemption. She was the youngest of five children, raised in a stable and “bookish family.” Her parents were married for 43 years until her father died. She told her mom she was a stripper while they were in a car; her “knuckles on the steering wheel turned white,” said Ms. Burana, recounting a moment she will never forget. Her father, a man she describes as gentle, graceful and stoic, penned an elegant letter in which he beseeched her to do better: He even wondered if he should have been stricter throughout her childhood. Her parents remained “loving” and “patient,” she said.

Ms. Burana said she eventually realized that “adult entertainment and long-term relationships are not compatible.” Beginning in 1994, she charted a new course - one that gradually led her toward a writing career, marriage and Christianity. In a “healing conversation” with her sister, a Presbyterian minister, she learned the meaning of repentance. “She taught me that it means turning from the past to face in another direction,” she said. Ms. Burana is currently a self-styled “imperfect Christian,” one who is “working on faith every day.” She is convinced that “God is there” and “you redeem yourself every day by your acts towards others.”

Now a reflective, accomplished woman of 41, Ms. Burana says she holds the military in the highest esteem. She recounts an episode in which, prior to writing her latest book, she was in a room with three editors of a national publishing house - whom she prefers not to identify - who were drilling her on her prospectus. They kept telling her she needed to “go really deep,” which she understood as a request for a hatchet job on the military. “I love my military and I love my military man,” said Ms. Burana. “Loyalty is a most cherished quality in a soldier and in a military spouse. If you think you can give me any amount of money to trash the Army, you are mad.”

Ms. Burana defends her husband’s service and her role as his supporter. Her loyalty and commitment is reciprocated by many within the military community, including Army wives and faculty members at West Point. She is scheduled to appear at Fort Carson and Fort Lewis during her book tour.

West Point officials need to recognize that future leaders being trained at the academy will benefit by exposure to different kinds of life, said Ms. Burana. “Just because you host me does not mean that you endorse everything I write, does not mean that you agree with every belief I hold or that you approve of every choice I have made.” The decision to cancel her book signing made her feel “diminished,” she said. Then she added, “I am so much more than my past life.”

• Grace Vuoto is the editor of Base News, a project of The Washington Times for America’s military community.

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