Richard Russo: 'Mankind is Our Business'
The Pulitzer Prize-Winning writer explains in Publishers Weekly (March 3, 2008) why giving back is a writer's call and why six of Maine's finest writers are working for hospice.
Even though a writer's work is solitary, most of us do engage the world in various ways. We're often asked to give readings or make appearances to benefit schools, libraries, hunger organizations and other causes in the hope that our appeals may count for more than those of average citizens. The problem is-and I say this from experience-they don't count for much more. Occasionally we can raise significant sums, but more often our best efforts result in "literary bake sales." After all, we're not rock stars, athletes or actors, and merely showing up as ourselves rarely loosens purse strings. A few, like Stephen King, have foundations that make significant grants, but even at that level, there's frustration in realizing just how many worthy causes there are and how deep their needs run. Still, Jacob Marley was right: mankind is our business, and it does no good for us to ask, "Are there no workhouses?" What, then, do we do?
Well, I and five other Maine writers are trying something new, or at least new to us. The idea was born when my friend Lee Duff asked if I'd be willing to do something to support a group of hospice volunteers in mid-Maine who did great work on a shoestring budget in a poor part of the state. I wasn't, I confess, enthusiastic about the idea of yet another literary bake sale. Nevertheless, I met with Dale Marie Clark, who directs the hospice program, and Lee, who chairs its board. I figured we would trot out all the old ideas and I'd explain how little money an author event would likely generate. Then I'd write them a goodwill check, buying myself out of an event that would likely provide more opportunity for humiliation than revenue.
Pictured left to right are (front row) Leon Duff, Richard Russo, Monica Wood, Susan Sterling, Gerry Boyle, and Dale Marie Clark; and, (back row) Bill Roorbach and Wesley McNair.
The result is A Healing Touch: True Stories of Life, Death and Hospice, a small volume of true stories by Monica Wood, Wesley McNair, Bill Roorbach, Susan Sterling, Gerry Boyle and me. When I approached the writers, they all said yes, and Down East Books saw in the book an opportunity to do not just well but good. All of the book's royalties will go to hospice volunteers, and Down East Books will donate a portion of its profits, too. We're proud of A Healing Touch, and not just because its cause is good, or because the stories we wrote surprised and moved us, or even because we as writers heard and answered a call to action. We also feel good about this small, good book because it wasn't just Jacob Marley who was right. So was his creator. Dickens wrote that call to action. He understood the value of so doing.
Listen to Scott Simon's Weekend Edition National Public Radio interview with Russo, which aired May 31, 2008, here.
Richard Russo lives in Camden. His essay originally appeared in Publishers Weekly.
Click here to order "A Healing Touch: True Stories of Life, Death, and Hospice."
- By: Richard Russo