Friday, 18 April 2014

Published Writers: How Did They Do It???

Premise of Blog: As an unpublished writer, I thought it might be interesting to find out more about those envied souls – the published writer.  As there are so many of them and so many genres, I decided to select an author randomly (pointing a finger) from A-Z and focus on what he or she had to say about writing, hoping against hope that some of what they had to say would be of great publishing value.  As it’s quite a large tasking, I thought it might be fun to share this information with other would be published writers and hear what they have to say about the author, their writing or the craft in general.  And, if by lucky chance, a published author happened to take a peek at this blog, well, all comments much appreciated. 

This week’s featured writer:  Debby Applegate 

Debby is an American biographer. She is the author of The Most Famous Man in America:  A Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, for which she won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

Education Background: 

Born in Eugene, Oregon, Applegate grew up in Clackamas, graduating from Clackamas High School in 1985. She graduated summa cum laude from Amherst College in 1989 and earned a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University in 1998.
A University Fascination: 

Debby attended Amherst College as an undergraduate, where she began a two-decade fascination with famous alumnus Henry Ward Beecher, a 19th-century abolitionist minister who was later the subject of a widely publicized sex scandal.  

In Her Own Words:

I started researching the notorious and charming Reverend Henry Ward Beecher when I was only 18 years old, when I was asked to put together a display on notorious but forgotten alumni as a student worker in the Amherst College Archives (I was a great fan of American history even then).

I was raised in a very unusual religious environment -- my mother's family is Mormon, my father's is Irish Catholic, I grew up around many evangelical Christians in Oregon, and my mother is a New Thought minister -- and Beecher seemed to embody the best of what religion could offer. I loved his very modern sense of humor and irreverence toward old sacred cows, and his joyful, ecumenical approach to religion and life in general. Except, of course, for the fact that he was accused (but never convicted) of an affair with his own parishioner -- which explains why he'd been forgotten.

"What a great topic for a seminar paper!" I thought as an 18 year old student, but as I began writing about him I had no idea how long Beecher would capture my imagination. Finally, after nearly twenty years with Beecher -- including several years of college, 7 years of graduate school and another 7 years of research and writing (it begins to feel almost Biblical!) -- he and I have come to our climax.

I still feel great affection for Beecher even after seeing him at his worst, including discovering a child whom I believe to be his illegitimate daughter. In both his glories and faults, he is one of the great founding fathers of modern American religion and it would be impossible to imagine American culture without his influence. Just try "googling" Henry Ward Beecher's name on the web and you will find hundreds of his pithy, profound and funny quotations collected by people who have no idea that he was once the most famous man in America.

It would thrill me if my book restores some of Beecher's well-deserved fame and infamy. My only dilemma now is what to do now that old Beecher and I have finally come to the end of our collaboration.


Future Writing Aspirations:

As of 2011, Applegate is working on a biography of Polly Adler, New York City's notorious Prohibition-era brothel-keeper whose 1953 memoir, A House is not a Home, became a New York Times Bestseller and a 1963 film starring Shelly Winters. The decision to write the book came after a year of research into 1920s New York City cultural history, during which Applegate discovered Adler's memoir and grew fascinated by it.  Applegate's book is to be titled Madam: The Notorious Life and Times of Polly Adler and will be published by Doubleday.



With all her talent, education, hard work, Applegate remains humble about her talents as witnessed by what she had to say of her win of the Pulitzer:  "Half of it is just good luck ... Had it come out four years ago, I don't think the climate was ready for it. The religious right intersection with politics is very important now."


All comments are welcome.  Keep on writing ……



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