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Columnist mixes humor, insights in Toledo speech

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Clarence Page's quick asides keep the audience at the Stranahan Theater laughing.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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It's not surprising that a man of many words like Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page would have written his epitaph already.

As he told an audience of about 450 people at last night's Authors!, Authors! speech, his wife is clear on what his tombstone should say:

"Nothing concentrates the mind like a firm deadline."

That was just one of the insights Page shared during a folksy, funny 65-minute talk that was more reminiscence than formal speech.

He punctuated many of his points with quick asides that kept the audience laughing as he discussed the media, writing, and race while poking fun at himself.

An Ohio native who grew up in Middletown, Page is a journalism lifer. He started at the Tribune 40 years ago, and has appeared on numerous TV news shows as a pundit and was a Pulitzer winner for commentary in 1989.

He came up through the newspaper ranks, doing jobs such as neighborhood news coverage, the police beat, and assistant city editor.

So when Page bemoans the plight of newspapers as he did often at last night's speech at the Stranahan Theater, he is talking about the decline of something he loves.

He said he's not keen on referring to himself as a "content provider" rather than a writer and criticized the media leaders who decided more than a decade ago to provide content online for free.

"Our media giants are suddenly shocked that if you give your product away for free people are no longer interested in paying for it," he said, before adding a sarcastic, "Hello!"

Page said no matter how his work is presented, he will continue writing columns, which are syndicated and run in 200 newspapers, including The Blade.

His columns generate a fair amount of hate mail, which Page said he actually likes because these are his most loyal readers, noting how many of them will quote something he wrote four months prior just to prove that he's inconsistent.

He poked fun at himself for speaking at an event for writers when he doesn't have a new book on the market, noting that he has one in the works on the effects of class differences on our society. Page said the book will zero in on "color, class, and culture in an age of fear, resentment and YouTube."

He tucked the race issue into the back part of speech and said it was interesting how black people and white people looked at President Barack Obama from two different perspectives.

Whites often sent him letters asking why he referred to the president as being black when he has a white mother. Blacks, once they answered the question of "Is he black enough?" were eager to say he was African-American, Page said.

"It wasn't until he was attacked by white folks that we said, 'Welcome home, brother,'" he said.

Obama proved he was for real when he won Iowa despite its low minority population, he said. "When I step into Iowa I raise the black population by 25 percent," Page said.

Authors! Authors! is presented by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. Last night's speech was the last for this season.

Contact Rod Lockwood at rlockwood@theblade.com,

or 419-724-6159.

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