Good Reporting and Writing Lives On and On

From the Writer’s Almanac With Garrison Keillor:

It’s the birthday of the Kiowa novelist and poet N. Scott Momaday,born in Lawton, Oklahoma in 1934. His parents were teachers, so the family followed teaching jobs from one reservation to the next. Momaday felt like an outsider on all of them. He went to the University of Virginia to study law, but then he met William Faulkner, and he decided to study literature instead.

He started writing, and he was working on a project about the sacred Sun Dance doll of the Kiowa tribe. It hadn’t been displayed since 1888, but Momaday got a chance to see it, and it made a big impression on him. He said, “I became more keenly aware of myself as someone who had walked through time and in whose blood there is something inestimably old and undying.”

He tried to write a book of poems based on the experience, but a teacher suggested he turn the poems into fiction, and that became his first novel, House Made of Dawn (1968), which won the Pulitzer Prize.

It’s the birthday of John Steinbeck, born in Salinas, California  in 1902. In the late 1930s, Steinbeck was sent by a newspaper to report on the situation of migrant farmers, so he got an old bakery truck and drove around California’s Central Valley.

He found people starving, thousands of them crowded in miserable shelters, sick with typhus and the flu. He wrote everything down in his journal, and he decided that he had enough material to write a novel.

In less than six months, he had a 200,000-word manuscript. He finished on October 26, 1938, when he wrote in his journal: “Finished this day—and I hope to God it’s good.” He wrote by longhand, and his wife, Carol, typed up the manuscript. She also suggested a title: The Grapes of Wrath, from the song “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939, sold half a million copies in its first year, and won a Pulitzer Prize.

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