Monday, December 31, 2007

Grace Paley was a New York writer through and through. When I met her in the late 60s she was already known for her short stories and her political activism, and she excelled at both for the rest of her life. She became a living treasure, recognized as such by Governor Mario Cuomo. She died in 2007.
David Halberstam died in a car accident in 2007. I met him in Boston when he was doing interviews for his first book, The Best and The Brightest, about hubris among those who brought us Vietnam. It's become the conventional wisdom, though historians have refined and tempered his journalistic analysis. He first made his name as a reporter in Vietnam, and after this book became a popular and respected author. Many know him as much for his books on sports as on politics.
Ingmar Bergman is best known as a film director, and secondly as a theatre director. But he also wrote many of those famous movies, and he has other published works as a writer. He died in July, on the same day as another classic European film director, Michelangelo Antonioni.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. was one of the last of several fading breeds: the public intellectual, the man of letters. He first made his mark as a political historian (on FDR) and then political essayist. He contributed to speeches and was an advisor to President Kennedy. He continued to write important books for the rest of his long life, and his recently published diaries show how involved he was among the social and political elite. I will remember him for his indispensable books on President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, and especially for the book of essays he published in the early 1960s that I read when I was in high school, and had a profound effect on my political orientation from then on, called The Politics of Hope.
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