Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Noble Writer

        
     I was never to meet her face to face. I was never to hear her voice. She never knew if I lived or died, and only by a circuitous path did I even come to know her, but she was and remains the most important person in my career as a writer.

     When I was a young man I was obsessed with the drive to write a novel. Where this ambition came from, why it was so compelling, I do not know. All I was sure of was the story I wanted to tell. I took notes, I wrote character descriptions, and I attempted to outline chapters but I wasn’t writing. The skills weren’t there. The novel was not taking shape. Something was lacking, something was holding me back and I was in despair.

     I was making a living back in those days as a radio writer, and I was beginning to wonder if I might ever achieve my real ambition which was to become a novelist.

     Following my return from overseas service in World War Two and graduation from the University of Cincinnati I had been fortunate enough to find a job as a radio writer at the legendary station WLWT. In its earliest years it had been so powerful that it could be heard all over the United States. Even after its range was reduced it had been the stepping off place for a good many talented people such as Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, and Red Skelton. My job was writing radio scripts. I wrote documentary portraits of noteworthy people in the area, an occasional dramatic show and even continuity for a country western singer named Ernie Lee.

     From WLWT I moved to New York and went to work as a staff writer at NBC.

    One of my first assignments was to dramatize a book titled "The Time of Man" by Elizabeth Madox Roberts for NBC RADIO THEATER.

     I looked up Miss Roberts and learned that she was born in Perryville, Kentucky, on October 30, 1881. She attended high school in Covington, Kentucky and briefly enrolled at the University of Kentucky, but was forced to drop out after one semester due to poor health. After teaching school for several years she enrolled at the University of Chicago, studying literature and philosophy and fulfilling a lifetime dream of acquiring a college education. Her writing was first printed in 1922 - A group of poems for young people titled "Under the Tree." The success of the book led her to write her first novel "The Time of Man" (1926) about the daughter of a Kentucky tenant farmer which garnered her an international reputation. She went on to write several more critically acclaimed novels. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1936 she began spending her winters in Florida. She died in Orlando Florida in 194l and was returned home to Springfield for her burial.

     In reading her biography one item that caught my attention was that at one point Roberts had moved to New York from Kentucky and had written that first novel in a basement apartment on East 96th Street. I, too, was a transplanted Southerner, living on 87th Street, practically in a basement, so I felt an immediate kinship with her.

     When I began reading the novel, I discovered something wondrous and completely life changing. Roberts’ characters spoke in a way that was totally unique yet was exactly what I had heard as a boy in Virginia.

     The book is told from the viewpoint of Ellen Chesser, the teenage daughter of an itinerant farmer. I was struck by Ellen’s marvelous imagination and sense of wonder. Ellen’s mother is a character of great strength and perseverance. "The Time of Man" simply delighted me. It embodied the nobility I had always perceived in so called "common" people and I was elated by the newfound style and connection with another Southern writer. Her characters spoke a language that was familiar to me. The sound of it was already in my ears. But it was language that had been elevated from the everyday spoken word to the level of literature.

     After adapting "The Time of Man" as a radio play I began work again on my own novel. When I went to the typewriter the words came in a rush. It was as if they had been there all along and Elizabeth Madox Roberts had opened a floodgate. Not long after reading her book, I wrote and published my first novel.

     If it had not been for Elizabeth Madox Roberts my novels, as well as the television series they inspired, might never have been written for she helped me portray Southern hill folk not as ignorant, thick-browed, shaggy haired, moonshine swilling rednecks, but as the courageous, self reliant, decent, honorable people I knew so well.

     My association with this remarkable woman does not end there.

    This past winter the Elizabeth Madox Roberts Society’s Honorary President, H. R. Stoneback proposed and the EMR Executive Committee approved the creation of The Elizabeth Madox Roberts Society Award for Southern and Appalachian Writing. The award carries with it Honorary Lifetime Membership in the Roberts Society and I am proud to say that I was the first recipient of that honor.

    I hope that these notes will encourage you to read the works of this extraordinary writer. I would suggest that you start with her first novel that I love so well, "The Time of Man." If it is not in your local library you can request that they carry it. If there is no library in your area then you can obtain it from Amazon.com.

     There is an excellent article about Roberts on a website called The University Bookman titled "The Time of Elizabeth Madox Roberts" by Katherine Dalton. There is also rich information on the Roberts Society website – www.emrsociety.com which I urge you to explore.

     On the Society website you may click on "Buy EMR Books" and see what’s available, including studies of Roberts by H. R. Stoneback and others; also click on "Archives" and read the Roberts Society Newsletters, especially the 2012 edition where you will find many pieces on Roberts and other writers (including Earl Hamner!). You will also find information on the Roberts website about how to join the Roberts Society and support their good work.

     And you may want to attend their annual April gatherings in Kentucky publicized on the website.

     Good reading!

     Earl Hamner





17 comments:

  1. A lovely piece, Earl, and I'm so glad you're recovered from your illness and are back to blogging.

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  2. Hi Earl :)
    Once more a delightful read and further cements why you're one of my poetic inspirations !!!!

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  3. Hello, Mr. Hamner -
    I saw your blog post on Facebook - posted by my old friend H. R. Stoneback. My name is Breida, and I am one of the original (6) founding members of the EMR Society that meets in Kentucky every Spring.
    I really enjoyed reading your post and I'm delighted to "meet" you. What a wonderful story you tell of your reading of The Time of Man - and it's effect on you.
    My initial reading of that book (along with 3 of my fellow grad students) lead to the sart of the Society.
    My life has gone in quite a different direction - but I'll never forget EMR or that first reading of that book.
    Thank you for your story,
    Breida G. Stutzman

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  4. Thank you so much, Earl, for this book recommendation -- and for another wonderful blog post. (And Happy Birthday a couple days early!!! : )

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  5. Mr. Hamner,
    I am so glad you have gotten better and have begun to blog again. I look forward to reading The Time of Man. Thank you for the recommendation. God Bless!

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  6. Mr. Hamner,

    This is a wonderful piece and we are so happy to have it. The Time of Man is one of the most amazing novels, an endless spring of life. Thank you for writing this and for all your writing. We are honored to share a love for Roberts with you!

    Best,
    Matthew Nickel
    President
    Elizabeth Madox Roberts Society

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  7. Mr. Hamner,

    Thank you for writing this piece. I've been enjoying Elizabeth Madox Roberts's work and attending the Society meeting for many years now. She really is a wonderful writer, and I agree with you that The Time of Man is a great work!

    All best,
    James Stamant
    Vice-President
    Elizabeth Madox Roberts Society

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  8. Dear Mr. Hamner, My heart is broken, I have just read that Joe Conley has passed away and I feel like I have lost a family member. My husband and I met Joe at one of the Walton's reunions a few years back--what a wonderful gentleman! If you speak with Joe's family please extend our Prayers and Blessing to them and all of the Walton family!! And please have a wonderful 90th Birthday! With great respect, Bonnie Ross

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  9. Dear Mr. Hamner, Thank you so much for recommending this book and writer. I look forward to becoming a fan of hers as much as I am a fan of yours. I hope you have a wonderful birthday and have many more.

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  10. Happy 90th birthday Mr. Hamner from one of your fans. I was thrilled to be able to see you at last year's 40th anniversary Walton's reunion and get a photo of you and myself together on the porch of the old set. I will treasure those memories. Thank you so much for all you're contributed to our happiness!

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  11. Happy 90th Birthday Mr. Earl Hammer Jr. Hope you enjoyed your fishing. Tauna Schofield Faulkner

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  12. Happy 90th Birthday, Earl! Thank you so much for sharing your life with all of us! Your insightful writing has made a difference in lives all around the world. Never stop telling stories. Your words always reflect all that truly matters. May today be your best birthday yet!

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  13. Happy Birthday!!

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  14. Dear Mr. Hamner,

    Happy belated 90th Birthday! We hope your birthday was filled with joy!

    It was wonderful to read an update from you. We are sorry to hear you were ill, but we are praising God that He restored your health and gave you some fun surprises to ease the pain. Congratulations on the many deserved awards!

    We just learned of the passing of Joe Conley, and our prayers go out to the family & friends who knew and loved him. Mr. Godsey's warm spirit & hearty smile were undoubtedly contagious to those on and off the screen.

    Last summer, our family had the privilege of taking a trip out to Schuyler, VA to visit Walton's Mountain Museum. I was thrilled to go and see so much of Walton history. If you want to see a glimpse of our fun time there, I put together a little post here:

    http://blessedfemininity.blogspot.com/2012/11/a-little-post-for-my-walton-fan-friends.html

    We want to thank you for utilizing your God-given talent of writing to bless our nation with the heartwarming stories & encouraging lessons we love to watch on "The Waltons".

    Many many blessings to you and your family from a 3rd generation Walton fan,
    Katie

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  15. I just found this blog. What a treasure! I feel like Jim Hawkins and I just found the map.

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  16. Dear Mr. Hamner,
    I too am delighted to have found this blog. Your eloquent voice continues. The Waltons series began as I began high school, and it gave me insight into the lives of my parents, as they grew up in the Depression in a small ranching community in the hill country of Texas. Thank you for letting me know my parents a little better. In addition, I recognized bits of myself in The Waltons. I learned to appreciate that same rural Texas landscape just as the Waltons appreciated their own; I possessed the same love of reading and writing as John Boy; and I shared an almost exact kinship to Mary Ellen's stubborn tomboy ways. So thank you also for helping me know myself a little better when I was a teenager. What a gift you have shared with so many! I wish you blessings.
    Chris Bradley

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  17. Thank you for sharing your inspiration with us. Your passion and gift continues to bless us through your pen. You inspire many, probably why God has kept you in this world. Hope your health is well and you continue to pour your heart out for the rest of us to read!

    Blessings,
    Andrea Bowling Perdue

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