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Monday, May 8, 2023

Leaving a legacy of hope


Writing is sweat and drudgery most of the time. And you have to love it in order to endure the solitude and the discipline.” – Peter Benchley


Born on this date in 1940, Benchley made his mark with his breakthrough novel Jaws, subsequently made into a blockbuster movie by Steven Spielberg.  Several more of his bestselling works also were adapted for cinema, including The Deep


Benchley was seemingly born to writing, the third generation of family authors.  His father was Nathaniel and grandfather Robert, one of the founders of the famed writing group known as the Algonquin Round Table.  But Peter struggled to get his foot in the publishing door and nearly decided against it.  After working as a speechwriter for President Lyndon Johnson, he was knocking around as a part-time freelancer before pitching the idea for Jaws, “one final attempt to stay alive as a writer.”


The shark novel attracted a Doubleday editor who offered him an advance of $1,000 to put together the first 100 pages.  Jaws was published in 1974 and became a huge success, staying on the bestseller list for 44 weeks. Spielberg said he initially found many of the characters unsympathetic and actually wanted the shark to win. 


While Benchley didn’t have “personal” experience with Great White Sharks, he learned all he could about them and subsequently wrote about extensively about both protecting sharks and ocean conservation.  In 2004 the Blue Frontier Campaign established the annual “Peter Benchley Ocean Awards” to recognize those efforts.


Benchley died in 2006 but his legacy lives on.   The annual Peter Benchley Ocean Award ceremony annually brings together world leaders, scientists and policy makers to elevate marine conservation and promote actions that serve to protect and restore our oceans. 


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