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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The raw material for creativity

“I think most serious writers, certainly in the modern period, use their own lives or the lives of people close to them or lives they have heard about as the raw material for their creativity.” – Chaim Potok

Potok, who was born on this day in 1929, is most famous for his first book The Chosen, published in 1967 and listed on The New York Times’ best seller list for 39 consecutive weeks.  Ultimately, the book sold more than 3.4 million copies.

Potok, who was raised in a strict Jewish household, was encouraged to only read and study orthodox Jewish writings by his parents.  But after reading Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited as a teenager, he said he knew that he wanted to be a writer in the same fashion as Waugh, who became his lifelong writing hero and role model.  He produced his first fiction at the age of 16, and at age 17 he made his first submission to the magazine The Atlantic Monthly. Although it wasn't published, he received a note from the editor complimenting his work, something all writers hope for but rarely have happen when they receive a rejection. 
Rejection with encouragement sometimes has a little less sting.

Also an artist, Potok has a number of paintings that have been purchased for collections in noted galleries.  The language of art permeates his writings and one critic called him "The Michaelangelo of the written word."  He wryly answered that the only time he felt like Michaelangelo was when he was doing revisions.   

“I think the hardest part of writing is revising,” he said.   “And by that I mean the following: A novelist, like a sculptor, has to create the piece of marble and then chip away to find the figure in it.”  In Potok’s case, many fine works of art emerged from the effort.

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