A brief tribute to great writers
Published: June 14th, 2018
Oklahoma City — News that the incomparable Charles Krauthammer is dying led me to compile eight columns from a few of the writers I most admire. These articles will be posted on the Facebook pages I administer, and will be on CapitolBeatOK’s “aggregation” (front of the home page) for one day.
These writers are Americans, with one exception. That exception (Solzhenitsyn) lived in quiet solitude in Vermont for many years, awaiting an opportunity to return to his homeland. Readers may continue to access these writings by returning to this story to cut-and-past the link.
Most of them are still alive, a few have passed on from this vale of tears. Most are contemporaries, but one, Frederick A. Douglass, thrived in the Nineteenth Century.
The tribute begins with Krauthammer’s farewell to his readers(https://patriotpost.us/opinion/56456-farewell), which was printed in The Oklahoman and hundreds of other newspapers. Krauthammer began as a political liberal, but as the years passed he took on, cheerfully, the burden of conservatism. His loss is hard to calculate, in large measure because he also became a successful “talking head” on the various networks. He rarely raised his voice, but could, on his feet, sharpen a point in the course of a discussion.
In the late 1970s, when I taught “The Schools and American Society,” a sociology of education course at Oklahoma State University, I used Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s commencement address at Harvard, “A World Split Apart.” (https://www.solzhenitsyncenter.org/a-world-split-apart) Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, he surprised many, and served the cause of truth, advancing in that historic address his premise that the same disease infected both the communist east and the capitalist West – namely, an overarching materialism that robs the human spirit and denigrates the soul. In a lifetime as a writer and avid reader, Solzhenitsyn remains my favorite author.
One of the greatest American newspaper columnists is Thomas Sowell, whose retirement last year was a great loss. I’ve included his essay “Some Thoughts about writing,” in this essay’s compilation (http://www.tsowell.com/About_Writing.html). Sowell contributed to one of my books on legal policy, back in the day.
I had the distinct privilege of getting to know Peggy Noonan, who rose to prominence as one of Ronald Reagan’s speech-writers, one evening over dinner at the National Press Club in the late 1980s. She was beautiful, charming and witty (and still is all of that). Her subsequent career has garnered her many distinctive honors, including the Pulitzer Prize. In the essay I’ve selected, she gives the “back story” behind one of the greatest speeches in American history (http://www.peggynoonan.com/the-writing-of-a-great-address/).
During my college years, William F. Buckley, Jr. became a personal hero around the same time as Solzhenitsyn. Both in his writing and in the “Firing Line” television program over several decades, he brought passion and measured analysis to my chosen profession. Rather than Buckley himself, I chose a 2008 Newsweek tribute penned by Michael Gerson, another fine writer (http://www.newsweek.com/michael-gerson-william-f-buckley-83975). Buckley once quipped, in words I have often repeated and applied to myself, “I am a conservative in all things, save my choice of friends.”
Cal Thomas and I were the only conservative speakers at the Vanderbilt University “Impact Weekend” in the early 1980s. The weekend was banquet of idealism and practical preparation for incoming students – albeit one that leaned distinctly to the Left, politically. For the first day or more, I was alone in a sea of liberals (they didn’t yet use the term “Progressive”) writers and thinkers. When Cal showed up, I told him – in the form of a question before the assembled throng – I was glad he was there, because although I was enjoying myself I was feeling a little beleaguered. He replied, “Heck, Pat, with me here we’ve got ’em surrounded.” Even those on the left laughed. Thomas is a great Christian gentleman. After reading a wide range of his columns, I chose his tender tribute written after the death of his first wife. (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/02/13/cal-thomas-men-love-your-wives-before-theyre-gone.html) I learned, in a brief exchange of notes, that Cal is at this moment on a honeymoon with his new bride. A righteous man, he deserves every happiness this fallen world can offer, and the blessings of the one to come.
The next choice is an historical essay composed several decades ago by my favorite college professor. Dr. Odie B. Faulk, then teaching at Oklahoma State University, was the author of “The Geronimo Campaign,” a masterful analysis and recounting of the final efforts of the Apache leader to retain his freedom. It contributed, long before fashionable, to the historical reconsideration of the warrior.
Faulk transformed my approach to writing in a class called “The Writing of History,” in which he took students through the process of telling the same story (The Battle of San Jacinto) 16 different ways. He used bright markers to eviscerate our efforts, using an overhead “opaque” projector so that each of us could learn from our colleagues. In terms of writing, it was the most important class I ever took. The particular essay chosen for this tribute is straight-forward recounting of a Confederate combat hero. (http://westofthemississippi.angelfire.com/articles/confederate_hero_at_val_verde.html)
In every American history class I have taught in recent decades, I’ve used an immortal July 4, 1852 speech, delibered in Rochester, New York (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2927t.html)
by the abolitionist and early civil rights hero, Frederick A. Douglass. Best known for multiple versions of his autobiography, this is the speech that burned him into the national consciousness, as it was reprinted across the United States.
Humbly submitted, for your consideration, the words of eight great writers.