Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Back To Literature, Past
A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Honoring Writers, Past and Present

Leaving Your Mark on the World with Your Words

When it comes to death, writers do it differently.

The expanse of that statement can be reduced, like a fine wine sauce, to this: Writers are more likely to leave a more permanent mark on the world. It matters not whether they are journalists or literary writers. Speech writers or politicians. Famous or unknown outside their families. If they write, they become more indelible than their physical selves.

When Time magazine runs its annual farewell section, many such people are among those we will long remember. Amazingly others are first introduced to us in those pages. It seems a shame; we get to know them just as they leave us. But it gives us this to ponder: If we (in this case I) didnít know them and they have done enough good to be celebrated by Time, then think of those who did not make the list but were also great enough to be celebrated.

This yearís list included Frank McCourt, John Updike, William Safire, Ted Kennedy, and Walter Cronkite. All names we know and all writers, though all of them did other things, too, and some were better known for those other things. In fact, so much better known that we may not have thought of them as writers.

But there was no more eloquent nonfiction pen than Ted Kennedyís. Some might remind me that he had the best of editors, but then I must remind them that so did greats like Frank McCourt and John Updike.

It also included those I didnít know. In case you donít know them Iím going to mention a few. One was economic textbook writer Paul Samuelson. Funny, but my husband knew him. He still has one of his textbooks from his days earning an MBA at Columbia. Then there is playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote. Certainly I should have known him, but didnít. Another was Natalya Estemirova, a reporter who documented the atrocities of Chechens and Russians. all of these writers who left marks on the world were just as great as the ones I knew and—especially in the case of Estemirova—even greater for her sacrifice of life in the pursuit of bringing truth to us with her pen. She was only 50. She was, according to Time, ďkilled by four bullets at point-blank range.Ē

And what of the rest of us. The writers whose books are represented by powerful agents and published by names that are just as large, but never make it to bestseller lists and are little read. The writers whose beautiful books published by small publishers get lost among the hundreds of thousands published each year. The ones who publish their own books or get help from partner or subsidy publishers, many of them little jewels that go undiscovered. The ones who never write a book but write columns and blogs and journals. The ones who write their familiesí histories and tuck the manuscripts in a drawer never to be seen until some great, great grandchild interested in genealogy finds it and devours it with gratitude.

They, too, leave their marks on the world. Both now and after theyíve left us.

Tips and Tidbits

(Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a Tidbit that will help authors write or promote better. She will also include a Tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.)

Writers' Tidbit:
Writers interested in their craft know that last-minute edits can mean the difference between success and failure. My new booklet, Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers, will help all writers, from those who write business letters to those who pen poetry. Find it on Amazon.

Readers' Tip:
Those who like to read will appreciate the guidance in Magdalena Ballís review site, The Compulsive Reader. Or follow her reviews at For up-to-date information on all things literary, subscribe to her newsletter, too.

2010 Past Columns


© MyShelf.Com. All Rights Reserved.