Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Flashes from the Past: "Do not let this boy in your school..."

His principal had taken the time to write a letter saying, "Do not let this boy in your school under any circumstances," but as he recalled, "... I got in the car and drove up there and got in time for registration. When I reached the desk, they looked at me and said, "We told you not to come." I said, "I know you did, but I didn't think you meant it."

He was a kid who "stayed in trouble all the time," and he was frequently expelled for pranks and insubordination. Although he managed to wrangle his way into the university, he rarely went to classes (although enjoyed reading in the library) and dropped out after 2 years. He went into the National Guard, but was court-martialed for leaving the base without permission to visit a girlfriend, whom he later married.

But he did love to write. In response to a interviewer's question, "How did you get interested in writing?, he said "I'm sure my interest began in an interest in reading, which then was translated into an interest in writing...I was about 11 years old. I won a copy of "David Copperfield." Up to that time I'd read the "Bobbsey Twins" and then "Tom Swift" and the "Rover Boys" and "Tarzan," but since I got this as a prize, I decided I should read it. I found a world that was realer than the world I lived in, unlike these Tarzan and other books. This was a whole other world, and it was a world of art. I couldn't have defined it as that, but, one thing, I knew "David Copperfield" better than anybody I knew in the real world, including myself...I remember vividly having that reaction to that book "David Copperfield." I think most writers probably have that experience."

Who was this? This was Shelby Foote, who died just this past Monday at the age of 88. Shelby Foote was best known as the lyrical historian on Ken Burns' Civil War documentary. Foote's Civil War: A Narrative has been ranked as No. 15 on the Modern Library's list of the century's 100 best English-language works of nonfiction. He really did have a way with words.

"Of all the passions of mankind, the love of novelty most rules the mind. In search of this, from realm to realm we roam. Our fleets come loaded with every folly home." - Shelby Foote

Shelby Foote Interview
Shelby Foote Biography

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