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Sunday, April 30, 2017

As 'tasty' as tasty can be

“A novelist writes a novel, and people read it. But reading is a solitary act. While it may elicit a varied and personal response, the communal nature of the audience is like having five hundred people read your novel and respond to it at the same time. I find that thrilling.” – August Wilson

Born this week in 1945, Wilson was an African-American playwright whose work was highlighted by the series of ten plays, The Pittsburgh or Century Cycle, for which he received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama.  Each of the10 plays is set in a different decade of the 20th Century, depicting the comic and tragic aspects of the century’s Black experience.

I had the good fortune to first meet this wonderful playwright in 1987 while he was writing, directing and producing theater in St. Paul, Minn., and shortly after he wrote the amazing Fences, for which he won both the Pulitzer and a Tony.   In the early ‘90s, I heard him talk about the next in the series, The Piano Lesson, for which he won a second Pulitzer and the New York Drama Critics Award.

Wilson had the remarkable ability to make everything he said and wrote crackle with enthusiasm and life and any aspiring writer or actor who listened to his talks would always walk out fired up about writing or acting and ready to get busy trying to emulate what he had just shared.    It was after hearing him that I wrote my one and only play, The First Day, and then got started in acting in community theater.                         

 Wilson said his aim was to sketch the Black experience in the 20th century and "raise consciousness through theater.”  He was fascinated by the power of theater as a medium where a community at large could come together to bear witness to events and currents unfolding.  “I think my plays offer white Americans a different way to look at black Americans.”

“In creating plays," he said,  "I often use the image of a stewing pot in which I toss various things that I’m going to make use of—a black cat, a garden, a bicycle, a man with a scar on his face, a pregnant woman, a man with a gun."      The results were as tasty as tasty can be.

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Our 'gifts' for the giving

“The gifts that one receives for giving are so immeasurable that it is almost an injustice to accept them.” – Rod McKuen

Born on this day in 1933, singer-songwriter, musician and poet Rod McKuen was one of the best-selling poets in the United States during the late 1960s and '70s.  McKuen, who died in 2015,  produced more than 30 books of poetry, and hundreds of recordings of popular music, spoken word poetry, film soundtracks and classical music. He earned two Academy Award nominations and one Pulitzer nomination for his compositions.
I've always admired his works The Earth, The Sea and The Sky and his beautiful, sentimental ballad
 If You Go Away.  For Saturday’s Poem, from his string of poems that are simply titled with numbers, here is:

People riding trains are nice
they offer magazines
and Chocolate-covered cherries,
they offer details you want most to know
                                      about their recent operations.
If I’d been riding home to you
I could have listened with both ears
but I was on my way away.

Across from me
there was a girl crying
                        (long, silent tears)
while an old man held her hand.
It was only a while ago you said,
Take the seat by the window,
                             you’ll see more.

I filled the seat beside me
with my coat and books.
I’m antisocial without you.
I’m antiworld and people too.

Sometimes I think
I’ll never ride a train again.
At least not away.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

The 'Making You Think' moments

“The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think.” – Harper Lee

Born in Alabama on this date in 1926, Nelle Harper Lee became one of America’s most acclaimed novelists even though she wrote just two books.  But, of course, the first of those was her “classic,” To Kill a Mockingbird.  Published in 1960 it achieved immediate success, rocketing to the top of most bestseller lists and winning the 1961 Pulitzer Prize. That singular achievement led to her being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
                                      Harper Lee in 1960 and in 2007
Lee also was feted for assisting Truman Capote (the model for her character Dill in Mockingbird) in his research for his 1966 masterpiece In Cold Blood.   Between them, Lee and Capote created a new kind of journalistic reporting, obtaining “notes” from a primary source without actually writing them down.  Both were able to remember things in minute detail, and they would spend hours after interviewing sessions re-creating those interviews.  Their skill with the technique led to sources to “opening up” in ways they might otherwise have not wanted to do.

Lee lived her last 50 years as a recluse.  Until her death in 2016, she granted almost no requests for interviews or public appearances.  And with the exception of a few short essays, she published nothing further until 2015 when her so-called “prequel” to Mockingbird – Go Set A Watchman – came out.   Mockingbird’s universal acceptance had seemed to cause her to freeze up when it came to further writing.

“I never expected any sort of success with ‘Mockingbird’ … I just sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement,” she once said.  I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful (writing) death I'd expected.”

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Both a conduit and a storyteller

Celebrating 1,000:  Today’s post marks 1,000 consecutive days of posts to A Writer’s Moment. 
  Thanks for reading!
              - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
“Hemingway was really early. I probably started reading him when I was just 11 or 12. There was just something magnetic to me in the arrangement of those sentences. Because they were so simple - or rather they appeared to be so simple, but they weren't.” – Joan Didion

Like Didion, I was impressed by Hemingway from the start of my own writing career, and today, on the occasion of the 1000th entry in “A Writer’s Moment,” I thought about  him and what I like about writing.   Hemingway was many things, some admirable, some not, but above all he was a great observer of life, of the human condition, and of nature.  If you want to read some great short stories, read his Hills Like White Elephants, and The Killers – maybe among the best in the English language. 
Being a journalist first, I tend to follow the “understated writing style.”  Hemingway was perhaps the first to be famous for it, focusing on sensations while using simple sentence patterns, an economy of words, and  active verbs.   Not a bad model to follow, whether the writing is journalistic, creative – or both.
My “writer’s moments” have mostly been in journalism.   And while feature writing has been my forté I’ve enjoyed working on novels too.  I like the idea that while a novel takes place in the larger world, there's always a part of it that ends up being personal - even if I didn't know it at the time.   As a writer, I’ve been fortunate and glad to serve as a both a conduit and a storyteller because people need stories, not only to share in life but in order to live it too.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A spectator and a reflector

“A writer is a spectator, looking at everything with a highly critical eye.” – Bernard Malamud

Born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents on this date in 1914, Malamud was an American novelist and short story writer best known for his baseball novel, The Natural,  although it was his later book The Fixer  about anti-Semitism in Tsarist Russia that won him both a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.    The Natural recounts the experiences of Roy Hobbs, an individual with great "natural" baseball talent, and spanning decades of Roy's success and his suffering.   Starring Robert Redford, the movie had the distinction of being the first film produced by TriStar Pictures and earned 4 Academy Awards.
A young man during the Depression, Malamud          scraped together the money to study writing at City College of New York and went on to earn a Master’s degree at Columbia University before teaching many years at Oregon State.  A man after my own heart Malamud wrote slowly and carefully, authoring  8 novels and 4 short story collections before his death in 1986.  

Known for his honest depiction of both the despair and difficulties immigrants as well as their hope of reaching their dreams despite poverty, he said, “Those who write about life, reflect about life.  You see in others who you are.”

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Smile ... and brighten your world

“Your attitude is like a box of crayons that color your world. Constantly color your picture gray, and your picture will always be bleak. Try adding some bright colors to the picture by including humor, and your picture begins to lighten up.”—Allen Klein
Klein, who celebrates his 79th birthday this week, is an American humorist, author and lecturer whose writings focus on the stress relieving benefits of humor.  His work in that field has not only resulted in myriad writings and 5 books but also his election as one-time president of The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, which awarded him its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

Among his books on the effectiveness of therapeutic humor is the best seller The Courage to Laugh: Humor, Hope, and Healing in the Face of Death and Dying.  He also has edited numerous “happy” books of quotations, including the wonderful Always Look on the Bright Side.

The term Eternal Optimist probably would not be a stretch in describing Klein       and the words he likes to share.  “The lesson adults can learn (from using humor),” he said,  “is that the world is filled with things for our enjoyment.”

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Scratching that 'writing itch'

“I've been to a lot of places and done a lot of things, but writing was always first. It's a kind of pain I can't do without.” – Robert Penn Warren

Born on this date in 1905, Penn Warren was both a novelist and a poet and co-founded the prestigious literary journal The Southern Review.  He is the only writer to win Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry.  His historical fiction masterpiece was the remarkable (and one of my favorite reads) All The King’s Men, which won the Pulitzer in 1947, and an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1949.  The book was so well received that it also was made into both a play and an opera and a second version of the movie in 2006.

Despite being a wonderful writer of fiction, the author often said that his first writing love was poetry, for which he won two Pulitzers – the first in 1958 for Promises: Poems 1954–1956 and the second in 1979 for Now and Then.    Promises also won the National Book Award for Poetry.   

A Rhodes Scholar and a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient before winning his first Pulitzer, Penn Warren was perhaps America’s most-honored writer, capped by many of the nation’s most prestigious         awards before his death from bone cancer in 1989.  Named the nation’s first Poet Laureate in 1986, he also earned The Presidential Medal of Freedom, a MacArthur (genius grant) Fellowship, the National Medal of Arts for Lifetime Achievement, and a Robert Frost Medal.
“The urge to write poetry is like having an itch,” he said when his 1981 poetry book Rumor Verified was published. “And when the itch becomes annoying enough, well, you scratch it.”

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Jumping in and engaging the world

“I'll tell you why I like writing: it's just jumping into a pool. I get myself into a kind of trance. I engage the world, but it's also wonderful to just escape. I try to find the purities out of the confusion. It's pretty old-fashioned, but it's fun.” – Barry Hannah

Born on this date in 1942, Hannah was a novelist, short story writer and professor of writing (at the University of Mississippi).   A “mostly” lifelong Mississippian, he was born in Meridian and died in Oxford, the home of William Faulkner, and he said from time-to-time he felt like he was living in Faulkner’s shadow as he pursued his own career.  

Among Hannah’s many awards were the Mississippi Institute of Arts & Letters’ “Fiction Prize” (twice) and the Governor’s Award for his representation of Mississippi in artistic and cultural matters.  Among his 12 books were 5 highly lauded short story collections leading to his selection for the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Art of the Short Story.  He also won a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Robert Penn Warren Lifetime Achievement Award just prior to his death in 2010.  
Hannah said that music always               played a role in his writing, both within the works themselves and as he did the writing.  

“Some writers are curiously unmusical. I don't get it. I don't get them,” he said.  “For me, music is essential. I always have music on when I'm doing well. Writing and music are two different mediums, but musical phrases can give you sentences that you didn't think you ever had.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Enriching the world with song

“Won’t you reconsider?” – Sylvia Moy

With those words to Motown mogul Barry Gordy, Moy may have changed music and recording history.  Her plea was for Gordy to reconsider dropping singer Stevie Wonder from the Motown lineup as he grew older and his voice began to change. Moy suggested giving him a second chance by trying “a song or two” that she would write to better fit his new sound.

The results led to many massive hits, including “My Cherie Amour,” and “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).”   The Moy collaboration reignited Wonder’s career and ultimately catapulted Moy into her own successful writing career and finally a place in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. 

Inducted into the Songwriters Hall in 2006, Moy was Motown's first female producer and "pioneered some really, really unique things for women," said Motown arranger and musician Paul Riser.   A native of northeast Detroit she grew up in a family of 9 kids whose earliest performances were on pots and pans.   Never forgetting those humble roots, she co-founded the nonprofit "Masterworks," which trains underprivileged youth in the field of telecommunications and media arts. 
        “Sylvia Moy             made it possible to enrich my world of songs with some of the greatest lyrics,” said Wonder.  “But not only that, she, through her participation and our co-writing those songs, helped me become a far better writer of lyrics.”

For “Saturday’s Poem” here is "My Cherie Amour."  For enjoyable listening, go to YouTube and check out both this song and the terrific hit written for Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston “It Takes Two.” 

My cherie amour, lovely as a summer day
My cherie amour, distant as the milky way
My cherie amour, pretty little one that I adore
You're the only girl my heart beats for
How I wish that you were mine
In a cafe or sometimes on a crowded street
I've been near you, but you never noticed me
My cherie amour, won't you tell me how could you ignore
That behind that little smile I wore
How I wish that you were mine
La la la la la la, la la la la la la
La la la la la la, la la la la la la
Maybe someday, you'll see my face amoung the crowd
Maybe someday, I'll share your little distant cloud
Oh, cherie amour, pretty little one that I adore
You're the only girl my heart beats for
How I wish that you were mine

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Contributing a lifetime of smiles

“There are those who believe that the value of a children's book can be measured only in terms of the moral lessons it tries to impose or the perfect role models it offers. Personally, I happen to think that a book is of extraordinary value if it gives the reader nothing more than a smile or two. In fact, I happen to think that's huge.” – Barbara Park
Born on this date in 1947, Park grew up in New Jersey, studied writing at Rider College and the University of Alabama, and became one of the all-time best-selling writers of children’s literature – most noted for her immensely popular “Junie B. Jones” series.  The 30-plus Junie B. Jones books have now sold over 55 million copies worldwide.
Winner of 7 Children's Choice Awards, and 4 Parents' Choice Awards for the series, she also wrote many “Tween” novels, such as The Kid in the Red Jacket and her own personal favorite Mick Harte Was Here.     “My criteria for what makes a book an official 'favorite'," she said, “is based almost entirely on how desperately I don't want the story to end.  I didn’t want that one to be over.”

Park had a long battle with ovarian cancer and died in 2013.  Throughout it all, she kept up her writing and maintained her sense of humor – always looking to the bright (and funny) side of how things were happening.           “For 30 years I've gotten to laugh my way through my work,” she said shortly before her death. “For me, that's a dream job.”

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Dealing with the tide

“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.” – Antony Jay

Born on this date in 1930, Jay was an English writer, broadcaster, and director, famous for co-authoring (with Jonathan Lynn) the hit political comedies Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, aired on the BBC and around the globe.  He also wrote the wildly successful BBC television documentary Royal Family.

As a staunch supporter of individual rights and responsibilities, Jay also authored many essays on those topics and penned the best seller, The Householder's Guide to Community Defence Against Bureaucratic Aggression.

After being educated at Cambridge and then doing national service in The Signals, Jay joined BBC Television in 1955, ultimately serving as Head of Television Talk Features. During the last decades of his life  (he died in 2016)             he was a freelance writer and producer and was honored with a Knighthood for his distinguished service.

“You can judge a leader by the size of the problem he tackles,” Jay once wrote.  “Other people can cope with the waves, but it's his job to watch the tide.”

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

'The great feeling' of picking the right word

“I like playing around with the words; I love it when I feel like I've picked the exact right word to describe whatever it is I'm trying to describe. ”– Margaret Haddix
Born on this date in 1964, Ohioan Margaret Haddix is perhaps best known for her children's book series, Shadow Children (1998–2006) and The Missing (2008-2015). She also wrote Into The Gauntlet,  the tenth volume in the Scholastic Books series The 39 Clues.

A graduate of Miami University in Ohio where she studied English, writing and history, Haddix started her career as a newspaper reporter and it was her work as a reporter that inspired her to write fiction. After documenting a wide variety of topics, she said, she wanted to create her own plots and characters. 
“It's just so much fun to make up characters,                          
situations, and everything else about a story,” Haddix said.  “I have so much freedom and flexibility to do whatever I want.”     Now the author of more than 30 books for children and teens, she is the winner of the International Reading Association Children's Book Award.

While her professional career began as a reporter, she said it was always in the back of her mind to be a creative writer.  “I loved to read when I was a kid, and as soon as I realized that an actual person got to make up the books I loved so much, I decided that that was the job for me.”

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Do your bit to save humanity from lapsing back into barbarity by reading all the novels you can.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/r/richard_hughes.html

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Written in an exuberant new way

The secret of good writing is to say an old thing in a new way or to say a new thing in an old way. – Richard Harding Davis

Born on this date in 1864, Davis played an outsized role in American life with both his reporting skills and works of fiction and drama.  He was the first American war correspondent to cover 3 wars – Spanish-American, Boer and WWI – and was such an avid supporter of Theodore Roosevelt that he became instrumental in Roosevelt’s success.   His reporting, in fact, led to the wild popularity of Roosevelt’s Roughriders.

He was the son of two prominent writers – Rebecca Harding Davis, a successful creative writer and playwright, and Lemuel Davis, a leading journalist – and gravitated to both fields, ultimately becoming managing editor of Harper’s Weekly.   His editorship played a major role in the evolution of the American magazine.  His influence extended beyond news magazines to fashion journals and the way he dressed and looked (he was clean-shaven) and made him the model to be emulated among most young men at the turn of the 20th century.

And, he was a terrific writer, both journalistically and creatively.  He had many successful novels.  His book Soldiers of Fortune was a massive best-seller and also was turned into a play and two separate movies.  He also authored 25 plays and hundreds and hundreds of newspaper features.  Then, in 1916, still at the height of his popularity, he died from a heart attack while working late into the night on a story about the war.                                           
                       "He was as good an American as ever lived, and his heart flamed against cruelty and injustice,” President Roosevelt wrote at the time of his death.  “His writings form a textbook of Americanism which all our people would do well to read at the present time."

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