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As historian for CBS News, Douglas Brinkleys comments were often heard during the last election cycle. And hes writing an essay that will be published in the official photo-rich book on the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
Thirty-four years ago, he might have been your paperboy if you lived in Perrysburg.
Brinkley, 48, a prolific writer, commentator, and professor, will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Stranahan Theater as part of the Authors! Authors! series sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. His talk will be followed by a question-and-answer session and a book signing. (Books will be available for purchase at the event.)
"Many of my closest friends will be coming to my talk," he says, naming approximately half of Perrysburg High Schools Class of 1978. ("Were so super, were so great, were the class of 78!" he sings, having been refreshed on the ditty at his 30th class reunion in July.)
Teachers take note: Brinkleys talk will be a youth-friendly and occasionally light-hearted presentation about the U.S. presidency.
"Im going to talk about presidents and where were at right now," he says, noting Lincoln, Kennedy, and FDR. "Taking a look at the institution of the presidency from Washington to Obama."
And hell discuss his newest tome, The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelts Crusade for America, about how 100 years ago, TR preserved 240 million acres for national parks. It will be published in June and excerpted in the May issue of Vanity Fair (available in April).
As a lad he could be deeply moved by seeing a historic home, a rock from the moon, the grave of a famous person. He wrote an encyclopedia when he was 10.
"I cant anymore explain that than why I like canned peaches."
He was 8 when the family moved to Perrysburg in 1968, "when the Detroit Tigers were on their tear. I was a Norm Cash fanatic" he says. "Hes left-handed and Im left-handed. And he was such a colorful folk figure."
They lived on Cherry Street; his father worked at Owens-Illinois as a personnel manager; his mother taught English at Perrysburg High School. He tobogganed down the hill at Fort Meigs, caught frogs in a pond, fished for bass, and was thrilled when the family drove to Fremont to visit Spiegel Grove, Rutherford B. Hayes home. In his memory, Perrysburg is pure Rockwellian charm.
By 14, he was delivering The Blade on his bike. At 16, he worked as a banquet room porter at the Holiday Inn, saving money for pizza at Broskes.
After graduating from Ohio State University, he earned a doctoral degree in U.S. diplomatic history from Georgetown University. He taught at several universities before landing his present job at Rice University in Houston where he teaches three class in one semester (history of the presidency, the Cold War, and conservation) and has the remaining nine months to write books.
Brinkleys temperament is infused with energy and passions ranging from baseball to Thomas Edisons grave. He relishes head-first dives into the lives of significant contributors (Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Henry Ford, John Kerry), as well as watershed events (D-Day, Hurricane Katrina, and the Mississippi River).
At home in the woods outside of Austin, hes crafting a biography of newsman Walter Cronkite.
"Im going through all his diaries and personal papers and photographs to write this book," in which journalism will serve as the backdrop. Itll be about the 20th hes written or co-written. But its no chore.
"I just do what I feel like doing," he says, with a nod to Elvis.
"I get curious about something. When I wrote the biography of Rosa Parks, I recognized that there wasnt a book on her and here were 200 books about Martin Luther King," he says. "And Henry Ford: I loved Greenfield Village. I got very interested in automobile history. I still drive a Ford car today."
Sometimes hes asked to take on a project, such as editing Ronald Reagans diaries. He might feel obliged to tackle a subject, such as Hurricane Katrinas effect on New Orleans, where he and Anne, his wife, lived. For that effort, The Great Deluge, he received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.
He aims to create books that the editors of the New York Times will christen one of their Books of the Year, as several of his have been. Winning such a benediction requires serious historical treatment, top-notch accuracy, and vigorous prose, he notes.
What schools him on lively writing?
"I read a lot of fiction: Thomas Wolfe, John Steinbeck, Willa Cather, Saul Bellow, Truman Capote."
He admires Charles Dickens knack of using realistic detail to set up narratives. He likes contemporary writers Lorrie Moore, Toni Morrison, and Louise Erdrich.
"Ive been reading Louise Erdrich for my TR book. She writes about landscapes very nicely, has people in landscapes. Im trying to flatten out the Roosevelt macho prose. Last night I was reading her about a coyote that she saw killed and she did a reflection on coyotes and it was very lovely. It helped me as I was going over the galley on my book, this little coyote section I have."
The Brinkleys have three children: Benton, 5 (named for Regionalist mural painter Thomas Hart Benton, about whom hed like to write), Johnny, 4, and Cassady , 2.
Brinkley plays pick-up basketball and tennis, hikes, bird watches, and travels. When he leaves Toledo, hell go to Miami, meet with friends, and sail for Puerto Rico. where hell stalk the nearly extinct, brilliantly green Puerto Rican Parrot in the Caribbean National Forest, a legacy from Teddy Roosevelt.
Then its back to Austin to collect Anne and the children and head for California, where theyll hike in the redwoods, look for seals, check out John Steinbecks house, and visit his sister and parents.
"And all the while I will be reading and writing."
Douglas Brinkleys talk is at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Tickets ($10; $8 for students) may be purchased at any library branch and at the door. Information: 419-259-5266.
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