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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Overcoming a bias against reading

“I know that for every reader who has lost the habit or can't find the time, there are people who've never enjoyed reading and question the value of literature, either as entertainment or education, or believe that a love of books, and of fiction in particular, is sentimental or frivolous.” – David Nicholls 
Nicholls, born in England on this day in 1966, is primarily a screenwriter (his latest, Bridget Jones’ Baby is on the screen right now), but he didn’t start out to be one.  Instead, he was going to be an actor, and he was quite successful at it for many years. After studying acting at both Bristol University in England and at the American Musical and Drama Academy in New York, he was in both movies and television productions for most of 10 years.  But, he had the gnawing feeling that he really was intended to put down the words that other actors were going to say, and thus he graduated into writing, particularly for the screen.
Not that screenwriting is his only forte’.  Nicholls has had             
good success with his fiction, too, including a number of novels.  One of his best is The Understudy, which puts us – the readers – squarely into the heart of what it’s like to be an actor in modern-day films.  And, with a protagonist named Stephen McQueen, how can you go wrong?  He also has won awards and a movie contract for One Day (starring Anne Hathaway), and a UK Author of the Year Award for Us (in 2014).

“I think I became a writer because I used to write letters to my friends, and I used to love writing them,” he said.   “I loved the idea that you can put marks on a page and send it off, and two days later, someone laughs somewhere else in the world.”

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Minding other people's business

“Satire is people as they are; romanticism, people as they would like to be; realism, people as they seem with their insides left out.” – Dawn Powell

A prolific satirical novelist and short story writer, Dawn Powell also was a popular playwright who frequently set her stories in Midwestern towns and/or created plots that involved the transplantation of Midwesterners to New York City.

Best known for her novels She Walks in Beauty and A Time to be Born, Powell was born on this date in 1896 in Mt. Gilead.  She moved to New York City in 1918 to begin her writing career, first working as a freelance essayist and short story writer.  

Already creative as a child, she learned to read at age 4 and started writing diaries and journals at age 6.  It was those journals that fostered her further creativity after an abusive stepmother destroyed all of her writings out of spite.  The then 13-year-old Powell ran away from home, and was taken in by a sympathetic aunt who encouraged her to resume writing.  Powell later fictionalized that tale in her novel My Home Is Far Away.
Over her nearly 50-year writing career, she produced           
 a dozen novels, 10 plays, hundreds of short stories, and an extended diary starting in 1931 until her death from cancer in 1965.  “A writer’s business is minding other people’s business,” she once said.  “All the vices of the village gossip are the virtues of the writer.”

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Making our talents count

“A book comes and says, 'Write me.' My job is to try to serve it to the best of my ability, which is never good enough, but all I can do is listen to it, do what it tells me and collaborate.” – Madeleine L'Engle

Born on this day in 1918, L’Engle is best known for her young-adult fiction, particularly the Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels: A Wind in the Door and the National Book Award-winning A Swiftly Tilting Planet.   Her works reflect both her Christian faith and her strong interest in modern science.

L'Engle wrote her first story at age 5 and began keeping a journal at age 8, but despite writing frequently, she had little financial success and decided to give up writing as a career at age 40.  But her family encouraged her to keep going and she penned A Wrinkle in Time while on a family camping excursion.  The book was rejected 30 times before publisher John Farrar decided to give it a chance, and the rest, as old the saying goes . . . 
Once she made her breakthrough, L’Engle wrote     
dozens of successful books for children and adults and earned multiple writing awards.  In 1998, she received the annual Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association recognizing her body of work "for its significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.”

“We can't take any credit for our talents,” L’Engle, who died in 2007, said.  “It's how we use them that counts.”

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

The inspiration of 'everyday life'

“I think writers are observers and watchers. We always have our ears open and eyes open, so I might see something in everyday life that inspires me. And I think that's probably more than anything else. Everyday life is where I get my inspiration.” – Kevin Henkes

Born on this day in 1960, Henkes is one of America’s leading lights in the Children’s Book category, having just earned (in 2016) both a Caldecott Honor Book Award and a Geisel Honor Book Award for his book Waiting.  It is only the second time in publishing history that an author has won both awards in the same year.

As an illustrator, Henkes earlier won the Caldecott Medal for Kitten's First Full Moon (2004) and Caldecott Honor for Owen in 1994.  He earned Newbery Medal Honor Book Awards for his writing with Olive's Ocean in 2004 and The Year of Billy Miller in 2014.    All told, the Wisconsin native has authored and (mostly) illustrated           nearly 50 books, including another multiple award-winning book, Wemberly Worried, named the best children’s book of 2001. 

Adding to his earlier note on where and why he gets inspired, he said, “I like examining the ordinary, and by doing so, one hopefully reveals the extraordinary nature within.”

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

That cool 'December Moon'

Today, I heard a story on the radio that said December’s “Cold Moon” was coming, signaling winter’s arrival.  That reminded me of May Sarton’s poem “December Moon.”

So, on this Black Friday weekend as we leave Thanksgiving Day behind and autumn behind and spiral toward our first “winter month,” here for Saturday’s Poem is the prolific New England writer Sarton’s,

December Moon

Before going to bed
After a fall of snow
I look out on the field
Shining there in the moonlight
So calm, untouched and white
Snow silence fills my head
After I leave the window.

Hours later near dawn
When I look down again
The whole landscape has changed
The perfect surface gone
Criss-crossed and written on
Where the wild creatures ranged
While the moon rose and shone.

Why did my dog not bark?
Why did I hear no sound
There on the snow-locked ground
In the tumultuous dark?

How much can come, how much can go
When the December moon is bright,
What worlds of play we'll never know
Sleeping away the cold white night
After a fall of snow.

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Think ... and imagine ... big!

“We have to think big. We have to imagine big, and that's part of the problem. We're letting other people imagine and lead us down what paths they want to take us. Sometimes they're very limited in the way their ideas are constructed. We need to imagine much more broadly. That's the work of a writer, and more writers should look at it.”  Alexis Wright

Born on this date in 1950, Wright is an Indigenous Australian writer and lands rights champion for the native Australian people. 

An award nominee for a number of her writings, but particularly Carpentaria, she has published both fiction and nonfiction and is a noted essayist as well as novelist.  Her major nonfiction books are Take Power, an anthology on the history of the land rights movement, and Grog War on the introduction of alcohol restrictions in her native Tennant Creek area. 
Carpentaria, which tells the interconnected stories of several inhabitants of the fictional town of Desperance on Austrailia’s Gulf of Carpentaria, was rejected by every major publisher in Australia before independent publisher Giramondo published it in 2006. Giramondo chose wisely.  The book has won the Miles Franklin Award (Austrailia’s premiere writing prize), the 2007 Fiction Book award in the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards competition, and the 2007 ALS Gold Medal and the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction.  It also has sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

In addition to her writing, Wright is a Distinguished
 Research Fellow at the University of Western Sydney.                          “My role as a novelist is to explore ideas and imagination,” Wright said.  “Hopefully that will inspire people from my world to continue dreaming and to believe in dreams.”

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Thanksgiving Memory

It was 1957 and Thanksgiving on our South Dakota farm was going to be a feast beyond any we’d had for several years, featuring fruits and vegetables we had harvested ourselves and a goose my dad had shot just a week before.  We’d come through difficult times both on the farm and in our personal lives, but we’d turned a corner and were ready to celebrate. 

The chores were done and it was lightly snowing when we gathered in the kitchen to help get the table ready.  My 4 brothers and I were driving mom half crazy as we bounced around the table and in-and-out of the living room and from outside, hoping to “will” my dad’s arrival with his Uncle George, a bachelor farmer mom had sent him to fetch so he wouldn’t be alone.  Adding to the festive scene were a young couple who had recently moved into a neighboring farm and also would have been alone – not going to happen once mom found out.

Just as mom announced that the goose was ready to come out of the oven and we all rushed inside to see, we heard the car pull up and then my dad and Uncle George came in, brushing off the light snow.  “Everybody’s here!” mom smiled and then looking past my dad to the door, she got a confused look on her face.

“Oh, this is Andy,” my dad announced, stepping back and half pulling a middle-aged man past the threshold and into the kitchen.  “Found him walking down the road about half-mile from here.”  He smiled.  “Looked like he could use a little warming up, and something to eat.”  Everybody grew quiet as if unsure what to say, and then my mom hurried forward and held out her hand in welcome. 

“You’re in luck,” she said.  “More than enough food to go around this year, so the more eaters the merrier.”  She grabbed my dad’s hand, too.  “Dean, you didn’t get cleaned up before you went to pick up George.  Why don’t you wash up.”  She nodded to the homeless man, who in those days we all called “bums” and said, “and maybe Andy wants to get washed up too while we finish getting the meal on the table?”

The man smiled gratefully as my dad led the way to the nearby washbasin, removing his coat and hat at my dad’s urging and letting us boys take it back out to the entryway.

I don’t remember all the details of how long Andy was there that day, but I do remember how – like the rest of us – he ate and ate (it was Thanksgiving after all) and there was lots of laughter during that meal and after.  And aside from the surprise of seeing him when he first arrived, I remember also being surprised to see a grown man with tears in his eyes when he finished and got ready to leave and my dad offered to give him a ride all the way into town.

“Does Andy have a family?” I asked mom as she watched them drive away.  “Yes,” she answered. “At least he does today.”  Nearly six decades later the memory still lingers as one of the warmest in my growing up years, and especially at Thanksgiving.

Published today in the Sioux Falls, S.D., Argus-Leader, the Gannett Newspaper at which I started my writing career nearly 50 years ago.  Thought it would be appropriate to share it in today’s Writer’s Moment as well.                                                                                             
           Happy Thanksgiving! – Dan Jorgensen    


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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Imagine that ... then write it!

“Fiction's essential activity is to imagine how others feel, what a Saturday afternoon in an Italian town in the 2nd Century looked like. My ambition is solely to get some effect, as of light on stone in a forest on a September day.” – Guy Davenport 
Writer, translator, illustrator, painter, intellectual, and teacher, Davenport was both a Rhodes Scholar and a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, one of the few people in the world to achieve both major honors.  Born in the Appalachian region of South Carolina on this date in 1927, he was a self-taught reader and writer who graduated from high school by age 16, then went on to earn degrees at both Duke and Harvard.

Over his lifetime he had more than 400 nationally published essays and reviews, wrote 17 books of fiction and a dozen books of poetry, and contributed to several dozen other books or collections.  And, he did all that while teaching full time at a number of prestigious colleges and universities and drawing or painting nearly every day of his life from age 11 on.  A number of his art works are on display in galleries across the country.

Indefatigable was often a word used to describe him, but he said it was “just something I felt I had to do to keep my life in balance.”  He wrote right up until his death in 2005.  He said that of all his writings, he most enjoyed fictionalizing historical events and figures – a sort-of “What If?” scenario that make his works both fast-paced and intriguing.
“As long as you have ideas, you can keep going,” he said.  “That's why writing fiction is so much fun: because you're moving people about, and making settings for them to move in, so there's always something there to keep working on.”

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Traveling 'within' the writer's company

“To read a writer is for me not merely to get an idea of what he says, but to go off with him and travel in his company.” – Andre Gide

Nobel Laureaute Andre Gide was born on this date in 1869, started writing at age 15, and became one of France’s most intriguing “men of letters.”  A master of prose narrative, he was lauded for a wide range of writings including drama, translations, criticism, letter writing and essays.  But it was his meticulous and detailed diaries that led to his written reflections on life during the momentous and tumultuous six decades (1890 to 1950) in which most of his writings appeared for which he is most known.  
In 1947 Gide was honored                     
with the Nobel Prize in Literature "for his comprehensive and artistically significant writings, in which human problems and conditions have been presented with a fearless love of truth and keen psychological insight.”

By consensus Gide is known as one of the dozen most important writers of the 20th Century.  He once said that great authors are admirable not so much for what they write but for the fact that they foster disagreement and discussion.  “Through them,” he noted, “we become aware of our differences.”    At the time of his death in 1951, his obituary said that no writer of his stature had led such an interesting life, greatly accessible to the reading public through his autobiographical writings, his journal, his voluminous correspondence, and the testimony of others.  
In his own words, Gide simply said, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he first has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

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