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Thursday, January 7, 2021

'Always Keep Your Options Open'

 I met Frederick Manfred in 1967 when I was a young journalism student just finishing a newspaper  internship in sports writing – my first writing love as it were.


Manfred - who was born on Jan. 6, 1912 in a region he named “Siouxland” and where I also was born and grew up - was a towering figure in the writing world, literally and figuratively (he stood about 6-foot-9).  He had written his award-winning novels Lord Grizzly and Scarlet Plume and was starting a teaching stint at the University of South Dakota.  I was a student at rival South Dakota State, but Manfred came to our school and shared his talents with us, too.


After his talk was over and most of the crowd had dispersed, I stayed on to ask about his time working as a sportswriter for the Minneapolis Journal – and about our shared experiences of being “the oldest brother” in families of all boys.  I was the oldest of seven and was surprised to learn he was the eldest of six. 


I sort-of expected a cursory “howdy” followed by a “see ya, kid, stop bothering me,” when I approached him, but instead he warmly shook my hand, sat down (so we’d be at eye level with each other since I was only 5-foot-8), and talked to me for some 30 minutes.

In his lifetime (he died in 1994) Manfred wrote 22 novels; half-a-dozen nonfiction books; hundreds of articles and essays; and -- of course -- sports stories.


Manfred exuded a love of all writing that I found contagious.  At the time when we first met I hadn’t given much thought to writing anything but sports, but after listening to his advice “to keep my options open and never say never,” I decided if I really wanted to learn what it meant to be a writer I should be willing to try other things, too.   


And so I did, starting on a path to write everything from sports to news features to short stories and, eventually, novels and nonfiction books.  His influence and advice changed my career and I will always be grateful.


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