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Sunday, June 17, 2018

The 'Opportunity' To Reside in History

“Journalism allows its readers to witness history; fiction gives its readers an opportunity to live it.” – John Hersey

Born in China on this date in 1914, American writer and journalist Hersey was a storyteller extraordinaire.  His account of the aftermath of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, was adjudged the finest piece of American journalism of the 20th century by a 36-member panel associated with New York University’s journalism department.

A graduate of Yale, where he not only studied English and Journalism but also was a standout football player, Hersey went to work as a private secretary for Nobel Prize winning novelist Sinclair Lewis, then became a leading writer at Time magazine, including serving as a war correspondent during WWII.  
                                              It was right at war’s end that he wrote his first novel, A Bell for Adano, based on one of his assignments in Italy during the war.  That debut novel won him a Pulitzer Prize and also became an award-winning movie.  Despite his many accolades and awards, Hersey always said that he had as many failures as he did successes and each played an important life role.

“Learning,” he said,  “starts with failure; the first failure is the beginning of education.”

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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Understanding Good Writing, And Truth

“The job of the poet is to render the world - to see it and report it without loss, without perversion. No poet ever talks about feelings. Only sentimental people do.” – Mark Van Doren

I wrote earlier about Van Doren, who won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for his book Collected Poems 1922–1938.   Interestingly he became the second member of his family to win a Pulitzer, his older brother Carl earning the honor in 1938.    

The author of numerous short stories, novels, and plays, Van Doren was above all a poet and a teacher. As Thomas Merton said in a letter to Van Doren, "You always used your gifts to make people admire and understand poetry and good writing and truth."   For Saturday’s Poem, here is Van Doren’s
   Spring Thunder
Listen, The wind is still,
And far away in the night --
See! The uplands fill
With a running light.

Open the doors. It is warm;
And where the sky was clear--
Look! The head of a storm
That marches here!

Come under the trembling hedge--
Fast, although you fumble...
There! Did you hear the edge
of winter crumble?

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Standing Up For What Is Right

To love what you do and feel that it matters how could anything be more fun?”
 – Katharine Graham

 Award-winning writer and publisher of The Washington Post for over two decades, Graham, who was born on June 16, 1917, wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning memoir and led an editorial team that not only revived a so-so newspaper but also made it into a national power.  The Post, subject of a recent Tom Hanks-Meryl Streep movie by the same name, set the benchmarks for “how it’s done” in investigative journalism.

Graham said that she always stood behind her reporters and longtime editor Ben Bradlee and never wavered in her belief that what they were doing was not only right, but necessary.

A Republican who led investigative reporting into Presidential misconduct on both sides, she said politics should never get in the way of good reporting.  “It matters not if a person is from one party or another.  If someone has done something that needs to be exposed in print, then that’s what a good reporter should do.” 
                                            She was awarded the Freedom Medal and The Presidential Medal of Freedom, and shortly before her death in 2001, the International Press Institute named her one of the world’s 50 most influential and powerful media people of the 20th century.   “Once, power was considered a masculine attribute,” Graham said when told of the honor.  “In fact, power has no sex.”

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

What Writer's Block?

“There's no writer's block; there's only distraction.” – Carolyn Chute

Born on this date in 1947, Chute is a populist political activist strongly identified with the culture of poor, rural western Maine.   Her first, and best known, novel, The Beans of Egypt, Maine, was published in 1985 and made into a 1994 film of the same name, directed by Jennifer Warren. Chute's has two other books, Letourneau's Used Auto Parts and Merry Men also set in the town of Egypt, Maine.

“I never wanted to be a writer. I still don't,” Chute said, and yet she has been honored with several major writing awards and two major writing fellowships, one from Guggenheim and another from the Thornton Wilder Foundation.       She also devotes considerable time and support to the New England Literature Program, offering both creative writing workshops and the study of many of New England’s greatest writers.

“Whenever I write, I write what I find to be the way people are,” Chute said.  “I never use any symbolism at all, but if you write as true to life as you possibly can, people will see symbolism. They'll all see different symbolism, but they're apt to because you can see it in life.”

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Imparting Praise and Hope

“The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” – Mark Van Doren

Born in Illinois on this date in 1894, Van Doren was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, writer and critic, and one of the nation’s leading scholars during a 40-year career as Professor of English at Columbia University. There he inspired a generation of influential writers and thinkers including Thomas Merton, Robert Lax, John Berryman, Whittaker Chambers, and Beat Generation writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.  

Van Doren joined the Columbia University faculty in 1920, having been preceded by his brother Carl, who also won a Pulitzer Prize for his writing.  Mark Van Doren went on to become one of Columbia's greatest teachers and a "legendary classroom presence" teaching English until 1959, at which point he became Professor Emeritus until his death in 1972.
          He authored 12 books of poetry, 3 novels, and an astounding 17 nonfiction books, including the definitive Mark Van Doren on the Great Poems of Western Literature, published in 1962 and one of the great resource books of the 20th Century.   Van Doren also served as literary editor of The Nation from 1924–28, and its film critic from 1935 to 1938.

“Bring ideas in and entertain them royally,” Van Doren advised his writing students,  “for one of them may become the king.”

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Emotional Connects; Writing Success

“There is no better test of character than when you're tossed into crisis. That's when we see one's true colors shine through. So I try my best to make my characters personally involved in the plot, in a way that stresses them and tests them.” – Tess Gerritsen

Gerritsen, born on this date in 1953, grew up in San Diego and longed to be a writer, but her family had reservations about the sustainability of a writing career, so Gerritsen chose a career in medicine.

But while home on maternity leave, she finally took the plunge into the writing world, although not into the genre’ that would ultimately make her famous.  Instead, she went with Harlequin and did a series of paperback romance novels.  Her colleagues kept urging her to combine her writing skills and medical background instead, and finally in 1996 she wrote Harvest, her first medical thriller.  It’s the story of a detective and doctor working together (sound familiar?) to solve the mystery of orphans disappearing and who they think are being used as organ donors.  Three more bestselling medical thrillers followed before she wrote her landmark medical examiner/detective partnership called Rizzoli and Isles.  Twelve books and a 7-year television series followed.   To date she’s had her books published in 40 countries with sales of over 25 million.  
                                    “I think that, for physicians who want to become writers, they have the material and the smarts,” Gerritsen said in a bit of advice to any fellow doctors hoping to get into the writing field.  “They have the logic, they know the stories; it's just a matter of being able to connect with their emotional sides - that's the key to writing good fiction.”

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

'Good Hands' for Great Writing

“A novel is balanced between a few true impressions and the multitude of false ones that make up most of what we call life. With a novelist, like a surgeon, you have to get a feeling that you've fallen into good hands - someone from whom you can accept the anesthetic with confidence.” – Saul Bellow

Canadian by birth and later a naturalized U.S. citizen, Bellow attended the University of Chicago and Northwestern University where he studied writing and English but earned degrees in sociology and anthropology.  The fact that he was an anthropologist probably is not a surprise for his readers who find anthropological references sprinkled throughout his many award-winning books.  

Born on this date in 1915, Bellow’s 3 best-known novels are Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, and Humboldt’s Gift.  For his work, he won every major writing award, including the Nobel Prize, the National Book Award for Fiction (3 times), the Pulitzer Prize (twice) and the National Medal of The Arts.    
                                     “When we ask for advice,” Bellow once noted with his usual wry sense of humor, “we are usually just looking for an accomplice.”

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