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Archive for March 26th, 2008

Beverly Beckham at Buttonwoods

Beverly Beckham, columnist for the Boston Globe and writer and advisory board member for Grandparents.com spoke at Buttonwoods tonight.

She is as warm, sincere and funny in person as she is in her columns. Her humility, generosity and vulnerability show. She is engaging and interested in the thoughts of others. She was the guest speaker but eager to share not only how she became a writer but a column she’s finishing up, showing how she struggles with some pieces, and literally letting the audience witness part of her process.

She welcomed feedback and ideas from the group not needing to know if people were “real” writers, wanting to know how what she had written was received.  She showed she is a real writer, and each piece is new and tender, and we could witness her working her craft and see that even a successful well-known columnist still revises, reworks, struggled with tone and word choice and closure.

She is warm and real and while I share a few gems she shared with the audience I was most wowed by the huge personality packed into her petite frame. Huge as in a strong and distinct presence, a one-of-a-kind human being rather than huge as in loud or arrogant or know-it-all.

She told us she was thirty before she started writing seriously and at the time was a mother with three children and a daughter with an ailing mother. She talked about getting up at 5am and at one time writing three columns a week plus opinion pieces. She said she worked from 5am until noon.

She talked about her first break into newspapers when she wrote about the joy of racquetball. She said she handed in a seven-page piece. She had spent tons of time researching the piece and was told to cut it down. It was informative and also she wanted others to know, “If I can do this anyone can,” feeling about the sport.

She talked about her elation after the column was published. She joked how everyone at the Herald thought she was an athlete and everyone at the gym thought she was a writer. She said it was perfect.

She talked about a trans-formative moment when she had read a passage in a magazine from a book entitled, A New Kind of Country by Dorothy Gillman. It was about a woman in her 50’s who bought a place in Nova Scotia and was discovering who she was. There was a passage (and I’m paraphrasing her paraphrasing) where God asked, “What have you done with the talents I gave you?”

“I was cooking for my husband and sons,” the woman answered (again paraphrasing).”

God’s response was, “When I gave you those gifts you didn’t have a husband and sons.”

She said it was Catholic guilt that got her writing – guilt about not using her gift.  She talked about how much she loves her job but that writing was never an easy profession.  She said she spends hours sometimes laboring over the correct word.

She talked about her husband’s encouragement and how he pushed her and said things like, “You can’t get worse at something you keep doing.”  When she complained about the quality of anther’s column he encouraged her to write her own and submit it to the boss of the writer she was underwhelmed by and how that eventually led her to regular columns.

She also spoke highly of a woman at the Patriot Ledger (wish I had caught her name so I could pay tribute) who didn’t reject her writing but said, “Let me tell you what you did wrong,” and then published the revised piece.

One interesting thing she said she has learned about writing is that the pieces she thinks are best, often aren’t as good as she thinks and the pieces she thinks are bad often aren’t as bad as she thinks. She said that gives her some comfort.

She said the columns she likes to write most are the ones that hit upon universal themes. She said, as a writer, nothing (experience wise) is wasted. She’s not afraid to share her opinions, point of view or worried about being too self-revelatory.  She quoted C.S. Lewis saying, “We write to know that we are not alone.”

It’s hard for me, in my own words to capture her charm. She’s funny and self-deprecating and tells wonderful stories. I’ll continue to be a fan of her writing and insights and columns.

The last Boston Globe column of hers can be read at:

http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/03/23/a_faith_that_falters_is_restored_1206252166/

A brief bio of her is on the grandparents.com site. Here’s the link: http://www.grandparents.com/gp/corp/advisoryboard.html

The home page for grandparents.com is:

http://www.grandparents.com/gp/home/index.html

She really is as good, and I don’t just mean a writer but a person, as she seems to be in her writing.

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