Yesterday, when I wrote about the remarkable Betty Smith, author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I meant to use this quote by her about what she feels makes for good writing. She noted that if you want to write well, “Look at everything as though you were seeing it for the first time, or the last time.”
I thought that quote makes a good segue to saluting longtime Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford, who has made his name as that very kind of writer.
Deford is the first sports journalist ever selected for the National Press Foundation’s highest honor – the W.M. Award for Distinguished Contributions in Journalism (just announced). It follows another major award he earned last year, The William Allen White Citation for Excellence in Journalism – another rare recognition for a sportswriter.
Besides thousands of sports features he’s done in his 50-plus year career, Deford has written 18 books, 9 of them novels and all highly successful. “The trick, I suppose, is to keep readers’ interest up before you get to the ending,” he said. “Above all, you want the main character to be someone you like and you root for.”
One of his nonfiction works is the very moving Alex: The Life of a Child (also made into an award-winning movie), written in honor of his daughter who died at age 8 from Cystic Fibrosis. Deford continues to be a leading advocate for those fighting that terrible disease.
When I started my writing career, I was a sportswriter and Deford was one of the writers I most admired. I aspired to both write like him and to someday have something printed in SI. While I’m not much of a sports writer any more, I still have aspirations of getting something printed there.
If you’re not a reader of Sports Illustrated, you can get a feel for his work by listening to National Public Radio, where his commentary on how sports impacts our lives – and at times how he wishes it didn’t have so much impact – can be heard on the show Morning Edition.
Today is Frank Deford’s 76th birthday, and I salute him for setting the bar so high, not only for those who write about sports but for all who aspire to writing of any kind.
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