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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Adversity and success set a writer's path

“I think that everything you do helps you to write if you're a writer. Adversity and success both contribute largely to making you what you are. If you don't experience either one of those, you're being deprived of something.” – Shelby Foote

Although he mostly wrote fiction, it is for his hugely successful – and huge – 3-volume series on the history of the U.S. Civil War for which he will probably most be remembered.  Born on this date in 1916, Foote – first and foremost a historian – wrote his million-and-a-half word masterpiece The Civil War: A Narrative almost entirely by hand (with an old-fashioned nib pen) – doing 300 to 500 words a day for over 10 years.

A native of Mississippi where he grew up as a great admirer of fellow Mississippian William Faulkner, Foote said he began writing as a boy and “just never stopped.”

“I began the way nearly everybody I ever heard of - I began by writing poetry,” he said.  “And I find that to be quite usual with writers, their trying their hand at poetry.” 
Although he was not one of America's best-known fiction writers,        
Foote’s 1953 novel Follow Me Down won great admiration from critics and fellow writers alike, including Faulkner, who once told a University of Virginia class that Foote "shows promise, if he'll just stop trying to write like Faulkner.”

Just prior to his death in 2005, Foote said he still thought Faulkner was among the best writers of the English language.  “If you want to study writing, read Dickens. That's how to study writing, or Faulkner, or D.H. Lawrence, or John Keats. They can teach you everything you need to know about writing.”

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