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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Our 'gifts' for the giving

“The gifts that one receives for giving are so immeasurable that it is almost an injustice to accept them.” – Rod McKuen

Born on this day in 1933, singer-songwriter, musician and poet Rod McKuen was one of the best-selling poets in the United States during the late 1960s and '70s.  McKuen, who died in 2015,  produced more than 30 books of poetry, and hundreds of recordings of popular music, spoken word poetry, film soundtracks and classical music. He earned two Academy Award nominations and one Pulitzer nomination for his compositions.
I've always admired his works The Earth, The Sea and The Sky and his beautiful, sentimental ballad
 If You Go Away.  For Saturday’s Poem, from his string of poems that are simply titled with numbers, here is:

People riding trains are nice
they offer magazines
and Chocolate-covered cherries,
they offer details you want most to know
                                      about their recent operations.
If I’d been riding home to you
I could have listened with both ears
but I was on my way away.

Across from me
there was a girl crying
                        (long, silent tears)
while an old man held her hand.
It was only a while ago you said,
Take the seat by the window,
                             you’ll see more.

I filled the seat beside me
with my coat and books.
I’m antisocial without you.
I’m antiworld and people too.

Sometimes I think
I’ll never ride a train again.
At least not away.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

The 'Making You Think' moments

“The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think.” – Harper Lee

Born in Alabama on this date in 1926, Nelle Harper Lee became one of America’s most acclaimed novelists even though she wrote just two books.  But, of course, the first of those was her “classic,” To Kill a Mockingbird.  Published in 1960 it achieved immediate success, rocketing to the top of most bestseller lists and winning the 1961 Pulitzer Prize. That singular achievement led to her being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
                                      Harper Lee in 1960 and in 2007
Lee also was feted for assisting Truman Capote (the model for her character Dill in Mockingbird) in his research for his 1966 masterpiece In Cold Blood.   Between them, Lee and Capote created a new kind of journalistic reporting, obtaining “notes” from a primary source without actually writing them down.  Both were able to remember things in minute detail, and they would spend hours after interviewing sessions re-creating those interviews.  Their skill with the technique led to sources to “opening up” in ways they might otherwise have not wanted to do.

Lee lived her last 50 years as a recluse.  Until her death in 2016, she granted almost no requests for interviews or public appearances.  And with the exception of a few short essays, she published nothing further until 2015 when her so-called “prequel” to Mockingbird – Go Set A Watchman – came out.   Mockingbird’s universal acceptance had seemed to cause her to freeze up when it came to further writing.

“I never expected any sort of success with ‘Mockingbird’ … I just sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement,” she once said.  I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful (writing) death I'd expected.”

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Both a conduit and a storyteller

Celebrating 1,000:  Today’s post marks 1,000 consecutive days of posts to A Writer’s Moment. 
  Thanks for reading!
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“Hemingway was really early. I probably started reading him when I was just 11 or 12. There was just something magnetic to me in the arrangement of those sentences. Because they were so simple - or rather they appeared to be so simple, but they weren't.” – Joan Didion

Like Didion, I was impressed by Hemingway from the start of my own writing career, and today, on the occasion of the 1000th entry in “A Writer’s Moment,” I thought about  him and what I like about writing.   Hemingway was many things, some admirable, some not, but above all he was a great observer of life, of the human condition, and of nature.  If you want to read some great short stories, read his Hills Like White Elephants, and The Killers – maybe among the best in the English language. 
Being a journalist first, I tend to follow the “understated writing style.”  Hemingway was perhaps the first to be famous for it, focusing on sensations while using simple sentence patterns, an economy of words, and  active verbs.   Not a bad model to follow, whether the writing is journalistic, creative – or both.
My “writer’s moments” have mostly been in journalism.   And while feature writing has been my forté I’ve enjoyed working on novels too.  I like the idea that while a novel takes place in the larger world, there's always a part of it that ends up being personal - even if I didn't know it at the time.   As a writer, I’ve been fortunate and glad to serve as a both a conduit and a storyteller because people need stories, not only to share in life but in order to live it too.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A spectator and a reflector

“A writer is a spectator, looking at everything with a highly critical eye.” – Bernard Malamud

Born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents on this date in 1914, Malamud was an American novelist and short story writer best known for his baseball novel, The Natural,  although it was his later book The Fixer  about anti-Semitism in Tsarist Russia that won him both a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.    The Natural recounts the experiences of Roy Hobbs, an individual with great "natural" baseball talent, and spanning decades of Roy's success and his suffering.   Starring Robert Redford, the movie had the distinction of being the first film produced by TriStar Pictures and earned 4 Academy Awards.
A young man during the Depression, Malamud          scraped together the money to study writing at City College of New York and went on to earn a Master’s degree at Columbia University before teaching many years at Oregon State.  A man after my own heart Malamud wrote slowly and carefully, authoring  8 novels and 4 short story collections before his death in 1986.  

Known for his honest depiction of both the despair and difficulties immigrants as well as their hope of reaching their dreams despite poverty, he said, “Those who write about life, reflect about life.  You see in others who you are.”

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Smile ... and brighten your world

“Your attitude is like a box of crayons that color your world. Constantly color your picture gray, and your picture will always be bleak. Try adding some bright colors to the picture by including humor, and your picture begins to lighten up.”—Allen Klein
Klein, who celebrates his 79th birthday this week, is an American humorist, author and lecturer whose writings focus on the stress relieving benefits of humor.  His work in that field has not only resulted in myriad writings and 5 books but also his election as one-time president of The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, which awarded him its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

Among his books on the effectiveness of therapeutic humor is the best seller The Courage to Laugh: Humor, Hope, and Healing in the Face of Death and Dying.  He also has edited numerous “happy” books of quotations, including the wonderful Always Look on the Bright Side.

The term Eternal Optimist probably would not be a stretch in describing Klein       and the words he likes to share.  “The lesson adults can learn (from using humor),” he said,  “is that the world is filled with things for our enjoyment.”

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Scratching that 'writing itch'

“I've been to a lot of places and done a lot of things, but writing was always first. It's a kind of pain I can't do without.” – Robert Penn Warren

Born on this date in 1905, Penn Warren was both a novelist and a poet and co-founded the prestigious literary journal The Southern Review.  He is the only writer to win Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry.  His historical fiction masterpiece was the remarkable (and one of my favorite reads) All The King’s Men, which won the Pulitzer in 1947, and an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1949.  The book was so well received that it also was made into both a play and an opera and a second version of the movie in 2006.

Despite being a wonderful writer of fiction, the author often said that his first writing love was poetry, for which he won two Pulitzers – the first in 1958 for Promises: Poems 1954–1956 and the second in 1979 for Now and Then.    Promises also won the National Book Award for Poetry.   

A Rhodes Scholar and a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient before winning his first Pulitzer, Penn Warren was perhaps America’s most-honored writer, capped by many of the nation’s most prestigious         awards before his death from bone cancer in 1989.  Named the nation’s first Poet Laureate in 1986, he also earned The Presidential Medal of Freedom, a MacArthur (genius grant) Fellowship, the National Medal of Arts for Lifetime Achievement, and a Robert Frost Medal.
“The urge to write poetry is like having an itch,” he said when his 1981 poetry book Rumor Verified was published. “And when the itch becomes annoying enough, well, you scratch it.”

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Jumping in and engaging the world

“I'll tell you why I like writing: it's just jumping into a pool. I get myself into a kind of trance. I engage the world, but it's also wonderful to just escape. I try to find the purities out of the confusion. It's pretty old-fashioned, but it's fun.” – Barry Hannah

Born on this date in 1942, Hannah was a novelist, short story writer and professor of writing (at the University of Mississippi).   A “mostly” lifelong Mississippian, he was born in Meridian and died in Oxford, the home of William Faulkner, and he said from time-to-time he felt like he was living in Faulkner’s shadow as he pursued his own career.  

Among Hannah’s many awards were the Mississippi Institute of Arts & Letters’ “Fiction Prize” (twice) and the Governor’s Award for his representation of Mississippi in artistic and cultural matters.  Among his 12 books were 5 highly lauded short story collections leading to his selection for the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Art of the Short Story.  He also won a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Robert Penn Warren Lifetime Achievement Award just prior to his death in 2010.  
Hannah said that music always               played a role in his writing, both within the works themselves and as he did the writing.  

“Some writers are curiously unmusical. I don't get it. I don't get them,” he said.  “For me, music is essential. I always have music on when I'm doing well. Writing and music are two different mediums, but musical phrases can give you sentences that you didn't think you ever had.

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