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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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