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Sunday, June 4, 2017

A writing ministry extraordinaire


“All I really need to know... I learned in kindergarten.“ – Robert Fulghum

With those words, Fulghum – as he told me he prefers to be known and called by – burst onto the publishing scene in 1988, not only as a statement of fact, but as the title of his massively successful first book.  Ultimately, that book would remain near the top of the New York Times bestseller list for over 2 years and begin a 30-year run of sales.

Born in Texas and celebrating his 80th birthday today, Fulghum now lives in the State of Washington, where he is a longtime Universalist Unitarian minister and, of course, writer.  There are nearly 17 million copies of his books in print, published in 27 languages in 103 countries. His prose style is very simple and direct, and finds life-affirming maxims in such mundane matters as visiting zoos, leaf-raking, and dusting. Or sayings like, “Sticks and stones will break our bones, but words will break our hearts.”   The way Fulghum uses    words, especially in front of an audience, is mesmerizing.  

I picked him up once at the airport in Minneapolis to take him to an appearance before 2,000 college students.  We had a wonderful talk both over to the college and later on the way back, and he made me feel like one of his all-time best buddies, even though we had just met.  Then, when he stood up in front of those students, he did the same for all of them, beginning by singing “Itsy, Bitsy Spider” (and getting them all to sing along).

His story that I’ll always remember is about an old sage who was asked “What is the meaning of life?”  He responded by telling about a traveler who found a piece of broken mirror alongside the road, polished and shaped it, and then used it to shine light into every dark corner he might encounter.  “He sought to shine a light where no light could be found, and that is the meaning of life." Fulghum then pointed to himself and added, “It’s also what every good writer should strive to do with his words."

“I think my writing,” he said, “is part of my ministry.” 


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