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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Big man, big heart

 I first met Frederick Manfred while writing sports for the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader.  I was a young journalism student, had finished up an internship there and was added on as a weekend sportswriter – my first writing love as it were.

Manfred was already a towering figure in the writing world, both literally and figuratively (he stood about 6-foot-9, if I remember right, and I, of course, was only 5-foot-8).  He had written his award-winning Historical Western fiction novels Lord Grizzly and Scarlet Plume, both among my favorite reads in college, and was testing the waters on what would become a fairly long Writer In Residence stint at The University of South Dakota by making a few guest appearances at other colleges and universities, including my own alma mater, South Dakota State University.

He sat and spoke with young aspiring writers on his stopover at my school and after most of the crowd has dispersed, I stayed on to ask him a question about his early years in writing – as a sportswriter for the Minneapolis Journal – and about our shared experience of being “the oldest brother” in families of all boys.  I was the oldest of seven and had been struck by the fact that he was the oldest of six.

 Frederick Manfred

I expected a few minutes; maybe a cursory “howdy” and then a “see ya, kid, stop bothering me” response.  Instead, he warmly shook my hand, sat down (so we’d be at eye level with each other, I think), and talked for about 30 minutes about what I liked about writing sports and if I ever hoped to write other types of things as well.  At the time I hadn’t given that much thought, but after listening to this warm, wise man’s advice “to always keep my options open and never say never about other writing styles,” I decided I should be willing to try other things besides sportswriting if I really wanted to learn all about what it meant to be a writer.
 And, he showed me that being famous didn’t mean being aloof and that sharing with the next generation might be as important as what you did for yourself and your own career.  

Today is the anniversary of Manfred’s birth (in 1912) in the region he named “Siouxland,” the same region in which I was born and grew up.  Manfred wrote 22 novels; half-a-dozen nonfiction books; hundreds of articles and essays; and sports – and exuded a love of all kinds of writing that truly was contagious.  I'll always be grateful.

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