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A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Memories of George H. W. Bush, His Times, and My Start in Journalism

This morning, before I turned my favorite Saturday morning news show on, I unfolded the newspaper. It wasn’t in pristine condition. My husband had first dibs on it when he collected it from the driveway to take it to breakfast at MacDonald’s so the B Section was on top and there it was. A swell of sadness and memories, losses and gains of very different kinds.

The entire story and image above the fold was about the death of USA’s forty-first President. What, you might ask, does this have to do with literature. I am going to tell you and it has little or nothing to do with politics.

Though poetry and fiction are my first loves, my love of writing was forged in journalism. And this story in the Los Angeles Times made me reflect on it. The Times was ready for this story. It is an example of what journalism can teach a writer: Anticipation. Preparedness. Organization. Accuracy. Writing with clarity (short sentences, sometimes pithy leads). I am grateful to journalism for the what it taught me.

This story was more biography than obituary. That is a trend these days, but this story clarified the death and life of a gentleman who lead our nation through some perilous times. Like world transition after the break of the Soviet Union. Like a Germany divided. Some things I had forgotten. And some things I have been afraid I will never see again in politics (back to that gentility thing again and, OK, a little politics, too!)

I mused about my first “job” in journalism. I was a “reporter” for my high school newspaper, a job I mostly wanted because that’s where the cutest and smartest boys were and I was able to wander the halls of my school with an official pass when few others could. I wasn’t there for the right reasons, but I was soon converted. I thought about my second job in journalism when I was only eighteen as a staff writer in the “society” department at The Salt Lake Tribune, our state’s major newspaper. It was there I fell in love not with the men on the sports desk but with the thud, thud, thud of the printing press when it started rolling, the smell of the molten lead when I delivered out pages—the “layout”—to the backshop. The smear of fresh printer’s ink on my fingers when I opened those pages in print the next morning.

And I thought about all that goes into a story like the death of a president on short notice. It wasn’t a miracle. It was preparation. Still, this story must have lit up the newsroom when the death of a man who was president when much of our population was not yet born became news. I would have loved being in the newsroom. The rush for files. The quick edits and re-edits. The writing of a headline that filled the entire width of the paper. The font. The masthead. The camaraderie. Feeling part of history being made in some small but important sense.

I am still learning many of the lessons journalism teaches, but my love for it when it is at its best is complete.

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.)

Gift for Writers:

To learn more about how authors can battle the fear of writing, the fear of speaking, and even the fear of success, read the first few chapters of my The Frugal Book Promoter and then keep reading to help take the stress out of book marketing (and nurture an affinity for it!)

For Everyone:

You may not read newspapers like you once did. You may never have acquired the habit or—if you did—you found the news on web in places like Politico easier and maybe less expensive. If you are one of those, I hope you will pick up a paper soon. There you will find real depth that few news programs or web stories do. You will also be supporting investigative reporters like the ones at the Washington Post who reminded us of their role assigned them by our Constitution. Media—ethical media--helps maintain our freedoms. Free press for all its flaws is important to the preservation of democracies. It needs our understanding, our insistence on ethics, and our support if we and other free nations are to continue to prosper. We can all be a part of that.

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