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O’Connor and McCullough

I never trust admonitions about “how to be a writer”: “If you want to be a writer, you must . . .”; “A real writer should . . .”  Really, all you have to do to be a writer is write; all you should do to be a writer is work really, really hard at it.

I have occasion this morning, though, to share a couple of examples that writers . . . well, let’s just say a writer could do worse than to follow these two leads.

The first is a link making the Internet rounds this morning, quoting a letter from Flannery O’Connor in which she warns about the dangers of “too much interpretation.”  A writer should have plenty of aspirations and education, but it’s always possible to have too much of both.

The second is to note an appearance in the Triad next week by Pulitzer-winner David McCullough.  Some of you may have heard me tell this story before: when I was a young bookseller, a co-worker and I worked an off-site event featuring Mr. McCullough.  We were handling the book-sales table at the reception following his talk.  The crowd was well-heeled and high-powered, and we were beneath the notice and regard of all but a few.

Mr. McCullough walked in, flanked by big-wigs who were – and there’s really no other word for this – fete-ing him.  He was a big deal; they were big deals; they belonged in each other’s company.

But just a step or two into the room, he noticed our table over in the corner, said “Excuse me” to his companions, and walked straight to us.  He offered his hand and said, “Hello, I’m David McCullough.  Thank you so much for being here tonight.  I really appreciate it.”  He stayed and talked to us for a few minutes, until he had to get back to the bash being thrown in his honor.

I already admired his writing – still do – but from that moment on, I admired him so much more, and I’ve never forgotten his example.