Luminaries profiled in Milwaukee Magazine

BLONDE BOOKER: When authors come to Milwaukee, one woman gets the call

by Stephen Paske

When James Bradley, best-selling author of Flags of Our Fathers, came to Milwaukee for a book tour, he was told to look for the tall blonde in the white Cadillac.

That’s Mary Gielow, Milwaukee’s main literary escort. Gielow founded Luminaries Public Relations and Author Tours in 1989. “I had been a stay-at-home mom and needed to figure out what I really wanted to do,” she says. Inspired by an article about a St. Louis escort, she thought, “I can do that.”

Today, Gielow handles the bulk of authors traveling here for promotional events. She’s worked with Dave Barry, Robert Graves, Alan Alda, Amy Tan, Sandra Brown, Steven Raichlen and even filmmaker Michael Moore.

Gielow handles things authors don’t want to worry about. She helps them navigate the city, drives them to book signings or interviews, and even shops for them (tracking down everything from cufflinks to disposable cameras).

“When Paul Auster came to town, he said, ‘I’m going to ask you to do something a little offbeat,’ ” Gielow recalls. Auster had recently learned his grandmother murdered his grandfather and his father had witnessed it. He wanted to see the apartment in Racine where this had happened. Before heading to the Milwaukee signing event, the two drove to the Racine Historical Society and the cemetery where he was buried.

“Mary is famous for being vivacious and meticulous,” says local author Patrick McGilligan. “She knows everything right down to the brand of bottled water somebody prefers.”

Literary escorts aren’t very common. In addition to Milwaukee, Gielow covers Madison and Green Bay and says there are only two escorts for all of Chicago. The recession is only making things worse. Gielow estimates the number of book tours dropped by 50 percent since November.

But that doesn’t mean she’s cutting corners. Nationally, says Bradley, Gielow sets the standard: “If you did a survey of writers who have been through Milwaukee and wherever else, she’d be the champ.”