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Saturday, August 29, 2009

On Teddy Kennedy, Political Writers and Good Editors

Writers know the importance of words. Sometimes those of us who write creatively forget that journalists are writers, too. Our kin, as it were.

Journalism, of course, is how I started as a writer and I loved it. Loved, loved it. So I should be the last person not to be critically conscious of the talents of my near relatives, those who are columnists, reporters, newscasters and more.

Enter Julie Keller, Cultural Critic at the Chicago Tribune, who wrote a memorial for Teddy Kennedy for the LA Times. Her love of words shined through every paragraph as she explained how important words had been in shaping Kennedy’s career--and that of his family. The words others wrote about them, too. Historians, reporters, writers of books.

All of them were inspired by events that surrounded the Kennedys and by the family itself, the individuals within that family. Some were bitter, some helped forge the legend that have become American legends.

But the thing I liked best about this article were the quotes Keller repeated from the records where Edward Kennedy himself spoke. Regardless of one’s politics, one has to admire his parallelism, his passion, his avoidance of long, obscure words. One has to admire how they helped us know better the man and his times. Here are a couple:

In regard to his older brother John: " . . . like his father he had every gift but length of years."

In regard to Robert: "My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."

He even borrowed from Irish poets including a phrase that has been repeated in the last few days, "live to comb gray hair . . . "

So many of his words allowed us to glimpse his soul. It would be good for us to remember that the abilitiy to do that is at the soul of great writing.

Of course, some of the best authors of our time wrote about the Kennedys, and some phrases from their pens are so memorable they have become very nearly clich├ęs: The Best and the Brightest. The Kennedy Promise.

We may think of the Kennedys as American royalty. The idea may be anathema to some. But, putting aside politics and prejudices, the Kennedys knew that eloquence does not mean speaking above the heads of people but speaking to them in direct and easy language.

My husband reminded me that the Kennedys accessed the best ghostwriters, political witers,and editors. That does not diminish heart. I don't know any really great writer who does not access important tools for writing. In fact, that may be another of the lessons we writers should learn from those who are articulate and talented. That goes for journalists, copy writers, advertisers, novelists, poets and anyone else who writes or speaks and would like--in some small way--for their words to be remembered for generations.

Thank you for the reminder, journalist Julie Keller. There are few legacies stronger or more important than the love of language.

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at Learn more about her other authors' aids at, where writers will find lists and other helps on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Carolyn.

Kristie Leigh Maguire said...

Loved your article on Ted Kennedy, Carolyn. What a great reminder to all writers.

Kristie Leigh Maguire

Kristin, Poet Warrior Friend said...

Carolyn certainly makes her case in clear, eloquent language--and adds something unique to the coverage of Senator Kennedy's legacy. Kudos.

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