The former Chicago Tribune editor’s 1993 book “Read All About It!” raised an early alarm about the corporate takeover of U.S. newspapers
Like many other young Southern journalists, my passion was writing. The Nieman Fellowship temporarily freed me from what had been up to that point a frantic struggle to feed my young family on a Nashville Tennessean reporter’s salary. Now, I even had leisure time to spend writing short stories.
My best friend in the class was the more worldly and accomplished Jack Schwartz, erudite book editor of Newsday and dead ringer for actor Gene Wilder, with a wit to match. Lugging his own libation, Schwartz spent many hours in my apartment entertaining my 3-year-old daughter, editing and improving my fiction. Somehow my manuscript made it to a Boston fiction editor, who offered me a several thousand-dollar advance. Jack and I celebrated with champagne until it ran out and then with whatever was available. By then Jack, who had drunk himself into a state of total candor, told me that despite all of his earlier praise, the stories were not good enough to publish. The stories are OK, Jack said, but OK is never good enough. From that day to this, OK has never been satisfactory. Everything I have ever done could have and should have been better. The manuscript was recovered and stored in a cheap briefcase for 20 years. In 1994, after much reworking, Random House published it as “The Secrets of the Hopewell Box,” a tale of Southern political history that became a regional best seller. Last year Vanderbilt University republished my best writing ever in paperback and e-book, and it is selling well again, earning money for the university library—all due to a Nieman moment inflicted on me by a wonderful Fellow whom my daughter called “Mr. Sports” and never forgot. And neither have I.