BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Andrew Carroll, what is the symbol here on the cover of your book?
Mr. ANDREW CARROLL, AUTHOR, "LETTERS OF A NATION": That is the quill of a pen--of a fountain pen. There's been some confusion about that, and I've heard churches and liquor bottles and everything. But it is--it's the very top quill of a pen.
LAMB: And whose idea was it?
Mr. CARROLL: That was the publisher's idea. And I liked it 'cause it was more abstract kind of idea.
LAMB: But you can see also that, if you get up real close on it, there are names.
Mr. CARROLL: Of many of the people who are in the book, right.
LAMB: How did you decide what letters to put in here?
Mr. CARROLL: I wanted the letters to be passionate and I wanted them to be revealing. There are two sections, essentially. There's the historical part of the book and the more personal part. But there's a lot of interweaving, and so even the historical letters are very personal in nature, and the personal letters have s--historical significance. Malcolm X writing from the Holy Land to his followers in Harlem and the letters of faith and hope--very powerful letter.
And I was not a history buff going into this book. I really wanted to celebrate the art of letter-writing. But I knew, of course, that I would go through history and pick out these extraordinary letters from Jefferson and Lincoln and Washington. But I tried to be as ruthless as possible in selecting them so that even someone like me, who's new to history in many ways, will find them riveting. And I thi--the letters are p--reprinted in their entirety. Many have never been published before, as well, and so there was a lot of digging that went into it.
I wanted to tell stories that hadn't been told before, that we're not as familiar with. The--one of my favorites is the--the Choctaw Indians here in America sent money to the Irish in 1847 during the worst of the potato famine. And it was just an act of generosity on their part because the Choctaws themselves had just gone through an intense period of deprivation and starvation. So when they heard what the Irish were going through, they knew and--and just this extraordinary act of--of compassion. And I think it's--it's not a story that we're all familiar with.
So along with the Jeffersons and the Lincolns and the Washingtons are letters by Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez and Mother Jones. And I really want to show a--a broad spectrum of American history, different viewpoints, different focuses and also reprint the letters not just in their entirety but with the original misspellings and little quirks of--of penmanship and so forth, and just to show people the nuances of what the writers were like. And--and you--you gain that insight from them because of it.
LAMB: How many letters are there?
Mr. CARROLL: Over 200. And again, they're all in their entirety with a few exceptions, where you just cannot find the entire letter. But I f--I find it very frustrating to come across that dot, dot, dot when you're reading a book of letters or speeches or anything like that and you don't get the whole--the whole thing. And you want to know, what was left out? Why was it left out?
So the letters are not terribly long. There are a few that are, you know, maybe 10 pages--Martin Luther King's letter from a Birmingham jail, which has to be in there. It's one of the most seminal letters of American history. And I think once you get into it, you really--you--you get the rhyth--the rhythm of it and the role of it. And I--I found it very difficult to put down once--the first couple times I read that letter.
LAMB: I calculated it's 19 pages in your book and it's the longest letter you have in the book.
Mr. CARROLL: It--it is the l--it's definitely the longest letter in the book, and it's in the letters of social protest and struggle. And there are a lot of letters like that on--about how America can improve itself, but still, I think, adhering to the ideals of America, which is that--there's--I didn't want the book to be cynical in a way. It's not a scandal-ridden book in that way. And I think even those letters of social protest appeal to the best side of American history and--and America's best nature.
LAMB: As--what was the first month this was in the bookstores?
Mr. CARROLL: December.
LAMB: Last year?
Mr. CARROLL: Last year.
LAMB: And as you've traveled around...
Mr. CARROLL: Hmm.
LAMB: ...and we'll talk about your travels in a--in a...
Mr. CARROLL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...couple minutes--what letter, more often than not, do the people bring up in bookstores and interviews?
Mr. CARROLL: Elvis Presley to Richard Nixon, without question. It's the one letter everyone loves to talk about and read. And it's--it's an extraordinary letter. Elvis is essentially writing to President Nixon saying that he wants to help fight drug abuse in America. And there's a wonderful line where he says, `I've done an in-depth study of drug abuse,' and--and some other things which, of course, he had. But it's a--it's--it was--it was handwritten on, I think, Delta Air Lines stationery as he was flying to Washington.
He--he delivered it to the White House and waited in his hotel room for a response from the president. And this is when Elvis Presley was Elvis Presley, when he was a very prominent American figure. And the--they met, all the White House staff, and said, `Should we do this? Should we not do this?' And they decided that a meeting should take place. And there's a very famous photograph of the two of them coming together.
LAMB: And you say here it was a December 21st, 1970, meeting...
Mr. CARROLL: That's right.
LAMB: ...that they eventually had. And Elvis writes things like, `Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can--that I can to help the country out. I have no concerns or motives other than helping the country out.'
Mr. CARROLL: That's right. And he wants a--sort of a badge. Elvis collected badges, and he wanted to be named some sort of federal agent at large so he could go around the country with his badge. And he also gave the president a gift at their meeting, which was a gun.
LAMB: `Sir, I'm--I'm--I'm staying at the Washington Hotel, room 505, 506 and 507.'
Mr. CARROLL: And 507. Right.
LAMB: Did anybody not give you permission to put a letter in here?
Mr. CARROLL: No. Everyone gave permission. All the estates gave permission. And a lot of the letters were fair use as well.
LAMB: Did you have to spend any money on any of the letters?
Mr. CARROLL: Substantial amount of money, yes, un--unfortunately. That was--that was the most laborious part of the book, aside from the research, was going through all the permissions. And I really wanted to be absolutely certain that I got everyone. I think if I wrote a letter and someone used it without my permission, I wouldn't be thrill--because there are letters from people who are still alive--many letters from people who are still alive today.
LAMB: Did you actually have to pay for the letter to be--put it in here?
Mr. CARROLL: Most of them, yeah.
Mr. CARROLL: Yeah.
LAMB: And what's the most you had to pay?
Mr. CARROLL: I think actually Edith Wharton's letters were the most expensive, surprisingly--several hundreds of dollars for a single letter. But all in all, the--I didn't not put in any letter because of cost. My decision was to do the book, just assume that every letter would stay and then calculate, and if it became too unbearable, then we'd reconsider. But everything stayed.
LAMB: Of over 200 letters that you have in here, how many do you think you had to pay money for vs. those you didn't?
Mr. CARROLL: I would s--just guessing, off t--80 or so. So...
LAMB: Who spends that money? Is that your money?
Mr. CARROLL: Unfortunately, but it's--it was worth it. It was--the whole project was worth it. This is a book I've been thinking about for eight years. And it was actually inspired by a fire. And our house burned down about two weeks before Christmas.
LAMB: What town in America?
Mr. CARROLL: I--Washington, DC. And I was in school at the time, and I got this wonderful call from my father, who...
LAMB: What school, by the way?
Mr. CARROLL: Columbia in New York. I was an undergraduate. And my--my father called up, and we were just going to exams. And he was very casual, he said, `How are you?' And I said, `Good. A little stressed out with exams, but still working away.' And he said, `You have an exam tomorrow?' And I said, `No, not till Monday.' It was--I think he called on a Friday evening. And he said, `Well, I'm just calling to let you know that your room is gone.' And he--he has this Irish sense of humor, so he was sort of pulling me along. No one was hurt, so that was the main thing.
And I said, `What--can you--can you clarify that?' 'cause I'm thinking of the house and my room and how it could physically be gone. And it's like, `Well, I--no--now the whole house is gone.' He was watching it burn from a gas station, and so he--I was the first person he called after the fire department. And again, everyone got out OK, none of the firemen were hurt, and they were extraordinary throughout. And s--but everything was wiped out, everything gone, and...
LAMB: What part of the city this in?
Mr. CARROLL: This is--this was in Georgetown. And it was--it was a big deal. It was 19 fire trucks, I'm told, eventually 'cause they were afraid it was--they were town houses--it was gonna spread from one house to the next. But they contained it.
LAMB: What started it?
Mr. CARROLL: It was an electrical outlet sparked on the carpet, and it just smoldered and grew. And I had put all my letters in the closet, I think as many people do, or an attic and just forgotten about them. And they were letters I really loved. Fri--a friend of mine who'd been in Tiananmen Square during the massacre had written home--he was an exchange student--and let--letters of love and friends overseas. But losing the letters planted a little seed about how just irreplaceable they are.
And a few months after that Ken Burns' "Civil War" series came out. And at the end of the first show they read that just beautiful, heartfelt letter by Sullivan Ballou to his wife, and he was at the First Battle of Bull Run and he was saying, `I don't think I'm gonna die, but if I do, here's what I want you to know, how I feel for you and that I'll always be with you.' And I was watching it with a friend of mine, and she was in tears and I was getting choked up. It was an extraordinarily passionate letter. And just the combination of those two events is what sparked the book.
LAMB: So whatever happened to your dad's house?
Mr. CARROLL: The--we rebuilt but then moved out eventually. So...
LAMB: So when did you actually start looking for your first letter for this book? And when did you have a contract with a publisher?
Mr. CARROLL: I looked--I was always clipping out things and saving. If there's an--an essay on Thomas Jefferson and they excerpted a letter from his, I would just save that, knowing I'd go and dig for it later, and that was about a five-year process. And I got the contract from Kodansha about three years ago and just fell into it headfirst and was literally seven days a week non-stop. And so that was about a two-and-a-half-year process, and the book came out. And I'm still collecting. It's a never-ending process. The book--it's a very meaningful book to me, and a lot has been invested into it just emotionally and personally. And it's not something I think I'll ever be able to let go and--and certainly don't want to.
LAMB: Was there ever any irony about the fact that Kodansha, a Japanese publisher, is publishing "Letters of a Nation" in America?
Mr. CARROLL: Oh, no, well, they've--what I love about that publisher is they do a lot of books, like "Having Our Say," which was the two African-American women in their hundreds talking about their life history in--in this country. And what I love about what they do is they sort of--they give voice to the voiceless. And when I approached Deborah Baker, my editor, who's just been unbelievable throughout this process, understood the vision of the book from the beginning and really pushed for that, said, `I want you to make sure'--and this is what I proposed to them--`that you really reflect America's diversity, and so we don't just have the Founding Fathers, which, of course, we want, so this is in many ways the canon of American letters, but the voices that we don't often hear.'
And there's some riveting letters by slaves writing to their masters, soldiers, poets, all sorts of people. And you just--I think you have a--a broad spectrum of voices coming through.
LAMB: I thought it might be interesting--when I read the book and read your letter on page 169, as I was reading it, I thought that the audience, you know, depending on where they're coming from politically...
Mr. CARROLL: Hmm.
LAMB: ...would have some very strong reactions if they heard it now.
Mr. CARROLL: One sixty-nine.
LAMB: One sixty-nine. `Dear...'
Mr. CARROLL: Oh, yes.
LAMB: `Dear Colonel Holmes...'
Mr. CARROLL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: What is this letter, and why did you pick it?
Mr. CARROLL: This is the famous or infamous letter that President Clinton wrote as a young man, and it was to the ROTC and it was about his getting out of the draft. And he's thanking Colonel Holmes for essentially saving him. I think the line is in here somewhere about, `I want to just thank you for--for saving me from the draft.' And I put the letter in not just because it was written by William Jefferson Clinton but because it's actually a very powerful letter about his opposition of the war and the feelings of the times by many young people.
And it's contrasted to Mark Rudd's famous letter from Columbia, which is a very antagonistic and belligerent letter to the--to the president of Columbia. And Bill Clinton's letter in contrast--I think he was 21 or 22 at the time that he wrote this--is much more diplomatic in really going through the arguments of his opposition.
The one thing I'll note about this letter is that in--in any case where I had a choice between a private letter and a public letter--perfect example: Ronald Reagan wrote a very poignant letter about disclosing he had Alzheimer's. That letter's not in the book. It was to the American people, it was widely disseminated.
The letter I did enclose by him was only declassified about two or three years ago, and it was a private letter to Leonid Brezhnev. And Re--Reagan wrote it three weeks after he was shot by John Hinckley. And he was in the White House solarium, as he tells the story, sitting in his pajamas, and he was just very contemplative. And he came very close to dying--I think the bullet missed his heart by about an inch. And it just spurned a lot of thoughts. And it's a much more pensive side of the president than I think a lot of people have seen. So that
letter's in there.
Now this letter is a--still a private letter, even though it was widely published during the election in '92, '91, and it's--it's a very well-written letter. In fact, Hillary Clinton's response when she heard it again was, `Oh, Bill, it's so you.' And it really is because it goes back and forth on all the different things he's thinking, very carefully thought out. There's passion to it, but at the same time he also talks about, `I wanted to maintain my political viability within the system,' so he's--he's calculating, too.
LAMB: This is dated J--December the 3rd, 1969.
Mr. CARROLL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Where would he have been then?
Mr. CARROLL: He was in England at the time, and so I think he was writing back. He had--he had been in the States for a little bit for probably Christmas break, and then I think he was back in England or--or about to return.
LAMB: And--and Colonel Holmes is who?
Mr. CARROLL: He--I believe he was head of the ROTC in Arkansas or around--he was in charge of Clinton's--whether he'd be deferred or whether he'd be put in the draft.
LAMB: Have you had many questions about this letter as you travel?
Mr. CARROLL: People remember it vaguely from the campaign, but it's like the `Dear Virginia' letter, the `Yes, there is a Santa Claus.' People know lines from it, but they haven't read the whole thing. And I think when they do, they're surprised by it, by the thoughtfulness to it. And s--and it's--as you say, it's almost a litmus test or a Ror--Rorschach test, that people who don't like the president find reasons to dislike him, people who like the president find--confirm why they do like him.
LAMB: Why don't you take some time...
Mr. CARROLL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...because it's so contemporary, read this, and--and...
Mr. CARROLL: Sure.
LAMB: This was used in the '92 campaign...
Mr. CARROLL: Yes.
LAMB: ...a lot, and it was publicized. But go ahead and read it.
Mr. CARROLL: All right. `Dear Colonel Holmes, I am sorry to be so long in writing. I know I promised to let you hear from me at least once a month, and from now on you will. But I've had some time to think about the first letter. Almost daily since my return to England I've thought about writing, about what I want to and ought to say. First, I want to thank you, not just for saving me from the draft, but for being so kind and decent to me last summer when I was as low as I've ever been.
`One thing which made the bond we struck in good faith somewhat palatable to me was my high regard for you personally. In retrospect, it seems that the--the admiration might not have been mutual had you known a little bit more about me, about my political beliefs and activities. At least you might have thought me more fit for the draft than for the ROTC.' And right there you see him saying about, `I sort of held back from you a little bit, and now I want to be more candid.'
`Let me try to explain. As you know, I worked for two years in a very minor position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I did it for the experience and the salary but also for the opportunity, however small, of working every day against a war I oppose and despise with a depth of feeling I'd reserved solely for racism in America before Vietnam. I did not take the matter lightly but studied it carefully. And there was a time when not many people had more information about Vietnam at hand than I did.'
Let me skip abo--there's a--`From my work, I came to believe that the draft system itself was illegitimate. No government really rooted in limited parliamentary democracy should have the power to make its citizens fight and kill and die in a war they may oppose, a war which may even possibly be wrong, a war which, in any case, does not involve immediately the peace and freedom of the nation. The draft was justified in World War II because the life of the people collectively was at stake. Individuals had to fight if the nation was to survive, for the lives of their countrymen and their way of life. Vietnam is no such case.'
Let me see if I can find the passage where he talks specifically about--here is--this is--this is the single paragraph that gets a lot of people's attention. `The decision not to be a resister and the related subsequent decisions were the most difficult of my life. I decided to accept the draft in spite of my belief for one reason: to maintain my political viability within the system. For years I've worked to prepare myself for a political life characterized by both practical political ability and concern for rapid social progress. And it is a life I still feel compelled to try and lead.'
Some people--again--and I agree, I think this really characterizes what a lot have said about President Clinton, of this--there is a genuine passion for social exchange, but then the--the--the understanding that it comes with political practicality.
LAMB: Go on in the next page, though...
Mr. CARROLL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...because I--I just want everybody--'cause I know this is--that--that people watching are gonna have dr--you know, opposite views on this.
Mr. CARROLL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: But read a little bit more on the next page about what his thinking was about the value of ROTC and--and how he was going to deal with this.
Mr. CARROLL: Sure. `When the draft came, despite political convictions, I was having a hard time facing the prospect of fighting a war I'd been fighting against, and that is why I contacted you. ROTC was the one way left in which I could possibly, but not positively, avoid both Vietnam and resistance. Going on with my education, even coming back to England, played no part in my decision to join ROTC. I am back here and would have been in Arkansas law school because there is noth--nothing else I can do. In fact, I would like to have been able to take a year out, perhaps, to teach in a small college or work on some community action project and, in the process, decide whether to attend law school or graduate school and how to begin putting what I've learned to use.
`But the particulars in my personal life are not nearly as important to me as the principles involved. After I signed the ROTC letter of intent, I began to wonder whether the compromise I had made with myself was not more objectionable than the draft would've been because I had no interest in the ROTC program in itself, and all I seemed to have done was to protect myself from physical harm. Also, I began to think I had deceived you, not by lies--there were none--but by failing to tell you all the things I'm writing now. I doubt that I have had the mental coherence to articulate them then.
`At that time, after we made our agreement and you had sent my 1-D deferment to my draft board, the anguish and loss of my self-regard and self-confidence really set in. I hardly slept for weeks and kept going by eating compulsively and reading until exhaustion brought sleep. Finally, on September 12th, I stayed up all night writing a letter to the chairman of my draft board saying basically what is in the preceding paragraph, thanking him for trying to help in a case where he really couldn't and stating that I couldn't do the ROTC after all and would he please draft me as soon as possible.'
LAMB: What's your reaction when you read it? Where would you have come down on this whole issue?
Mr. CARROLL: That's a good question. I--I go back and forth on this. And in many ways, I didn't want this book to reflect a political side one way or the other. And I think I f--it's had a very strong response positively from conservatives and a very strong response from liberals. And that's from the Letters of War chapter. Throughout that chapter you have very heartfelt and passionate letters by pacifists like Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect, who wrote a blistering letter to Lewis Mumford, who was his friend at the time, and they had a very public feud about World War II. And r--Frank Lloyd Wright was against our even participating in that. Helen Keller, same thing, a die-hard pacifist who wrote an extraordinary letter against her views of--with--against our entry into World War I.
But then there are some letters by soldiers writing from the battlefield that are so stirring and so patriotic, they're like nothing I've ever come across. A favorite of mine, a letter that's never been published before, is by a soldier in the famous 442nd Regiment, the Japanese-Americans who fought. And he's writing--this is the situation--he's writing to his father in an internment camp back in the United States. His brother has just been killed--they joined together. He's just been shot in battle. And the--the young man writes to his father that despite everything--and he said, `Dad, I don't want to preach to you, but despite everything, I've been all over the world and this is the best damn country on the planet.' And it just--it--it really knocks you out.
And so those are sorts of letters--I wanted to show both sides so that people from all--the full political spectrum will find something in it that they can connect to.
LAMB: How'd the book do?
Mr. CARROLL: It's in its fourth printing. It's really hit a--it's--it's really struck a chord with people, and I think it's because there's a nostalgia for letters and that--the--the one mystery that captivates all of us is human nature. We're always looking for clues into human nature. Even when we think we're on firm footing, we--we hear something or see something and the ground sort of shifts. And I think letters, like diaries, provide us with the most revealing glimpse into who we are not just as a nation but as individuals.
And that's why I really tried to select letters that showed a more revealing side not just of famous people but just people from all walks of life. Along with the Bill Clinton letter, the Ronald Reagan letter, there's a very sad letter by Mark Twain after his daughter died, and it's a side of Twain we don't often see. But the letter's almost poetic in its beauty. And similarly, there's a letter by Abraham Lincoln when he's a young man talking about this just humiliating courtship he's been involved with, and he's very funny and just very self-deprecating throughout. And Eisenhower, in that same Letters of War chapter, wrote, again, a very poetic letter on what it's like tallying up the dead at the end of the day and writing to his wife about how difficult that was.
And I think all these things give us a greater sense of who they were as people. So when--again, whenever there's a choice between a public letter and a private letter, I really strove to select the private letter and find it in its entirety.
LAMB: Now what does it say--I went back and counted top, you know, letters that you have people sending letters. And it's Abe Lincoln, Ben Franklin, John Adams--each had four letters...
Mr. CARROLL: Uh-huh.
LAMB: ...and Mark Twain had three.
Mr. CARROLL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And they kind of led the rest of them. Most of them are only, you know, one or two letters.
Mr. CARROLL: One or two, right.
LAMB: What does it say about John Adams, Ben Franklin, George Washington, Abraham--no, I mean, Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain?
Mr. CARROLL: Well, one of the most terrifying things about working on this book is you go into the library or into an archive, and they have these huge computer databases and you type in--'cause there have to be letters by Mark Twain and by Abraham Lincoln. You type in `Abraham Lincoln correspondences' and it comes up 50 volumes. And you think, `Oh, good heavens,' and I have to go through all these. But it was worth it.
These--those four or five individuals you mentioned could write on and did write on everything. They touched on love, hope, faith, religion, all--all these different issues. And s--choosing letters out of those tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands that they wrote was very difficult. But I hope in some ways it reflects what they believed and also fills in parts of the book that I think were important to--to address. So they--again, those letterwriters wrote on everything, and they could--they could address them all as beautifully as someone who'd be considered a so-called expert on them.
LAMB: A letter from Abigail Adams to her husband...
Mr. CARROLL: Remember--remember the ladies, right.
LAMB: ...`Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.'
Mr. CARROLL: Yeah.
LAMB: `If particular care'--and she writes it `perticular care'--`and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.'
Mr. CARROLL: John and Abigail Adams wrote the most stirring letters to one another during the American Revolution, that whole period, and that brings up--what I wanted to do in the historical chapters--the book is broken up. First five chapters are letters of the American Revolution, letters of the Civil War, letters of social protest. The second part are letters of love, letters of hope, letters of friendship, that sort of thing.
In the historical che--sections I wanted the chapters to tell a story, and so the headnotes, I think, are very succinct but hopefully comprehensive so that you really get pulled into what's going on at this time. And if you take Letters of a New Nation, which is essentially the American Revolution and the Constitution--the creation of the Constitution, I try and focus on all the major dominos that were falling, what led up to the American Revolution, the different viewpoints, so you not just have the revolutionists but you have the loyalists who are saying that what they're doing are acts of--they're traitors. And you have all these different viewpoints.
And my favorite letter in that chapter is the last one, writ--written by Benjamin Rush. And he's looking back 25 years after the signing of the Declaration, and he's appalled that they're already being forgotten. And he loathed George Washington--Washington was not unanimously loved throughout his time--and, in fact, he couldn't even mention him by name. And he was saying, `He gets all the honors, and we were the ones who on, you know, July Fourth in 1776, were the ones who put our lives at stake.' And they honestly thought they were signing their death warrants, because victory over the British was by no means assured.
And he has this wonderful scene where he recollects in a letter--he said, `Do you remember, as we signed this, that Colonel Harrison of Virginia said to Mr. Gerry, "Mr. Gerry, I will have a great advantage over you when we are all hung for this 'cause I'm a heavy, large man and I'm gonna go like that, and you're a lighter man and you're gonna dance on the air for an hour or two."' And he said it was the one moment of sort of jocularity, though a morbid sense of humor. But--but the letter brings you to that moment of what it was like to be in that room when the document was signed, and that's what I wanted the book to do, was to show those--those moments of what it was like to be there. There are so many extraordinary moments in history.
And I remember in high school and college that history seemed to me just this onslaught of dates and figures, and it--I couldn't pull it all together. But working on a book like this where you read the intimate accounts, you really understand what was at stake.
LAMB: Now at Columbia...
Mr. CARROLL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...what did you study?
Mr. CARROLL: I was an English major by default. Couldn't do math, couldn't do science, anything like that, so I thought, well, English is the one thing you can always sort of fudge. And--and once I got into it, I came to love it. But at the time, it was more that I--I couldn't do anything else. So...
LAMB: Did you stop with the undergraduate degree?
Mr. CARROLL: Yes.
LAMB: And then when did--what did you do right after college?
Mr. CARROLL: Started doing research on that, but I actually worked on a book on volunteerism, on how to get involved in your community and that sort of thing, and then worked on the poetry project with Joseph Brodsky. They were all happening simultaneously.
LAMB: Where'd you get your interest in all those?
Mr. CARROLL: I don't know. My parents have been always very good about getting me to read, and even when--even when I was a young--young lad, and they--they just--they created--and they still do--just this sense of support where I had a feeling I could do whatever I wanted to and that they would support it in some way. And--and when you have that kind of foundation, it--it enables you to do these sorts of projects.
LAMB: And then they have the tour.
Mr. CARROLL: The b--yes.
LAMB: Got some of the press, and here's one from the San Francisco Chronicle that's got a picture of you. And--and a--where--where is this picture?
Mr. CARROLL: That was in a supermarket in San Francisco. Not that's a dif--that's not about the "Letters" book.
Mr. CARROLL: Seven years ago I met up with the Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky, and he and I created this project where we gave out free poetry books around the country in public places. And we give them out on Amtrak trains, in subways, in schools, jury waiting rooms. And we've given out--the first five years we gave out about 100,000 books. And this April was National Poetry Month, established by the Academy of American Poets, and the idea was to drive cross-country in a Ryder truck filled with 100,000 books and give them out along the way at truck stops, diners, all sorts of public places--excuse me. And that--so Ryder gave me a truck. The Growers of Washington Apples paid for the books. All sorts of other sponsors kicked in. Doubletree put me up along the way. They were the first hotel to let us put books in their rooms. And this was all Joseph Brodsky's idea, and he passed away two years ago.
LAMB: At a young age.
Mr. CARROLL: Fifty-five, very young. And it was a real tragedy, and he's--he's certainly missed dearly.
LAMB: Here's the book that you gave out.
Mr. CARROLL: That's the main book we gave out, "101 Great American Poems," and it's sort of all the classics. It's the Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, the poems I think people have some familiarity with but may have--you know, may not read on a day-to-day basis.
LAMB: What does it--what did it cost you to--to buy these? Do you...
Mr. CARROLL: We get those at a discount for about 40, 50 cents apiece.
LAMB: So you had to raise $50,000 to do this?
Mr. CARROLL: Exactly. And a lot of books were donated to us. W--that wasn't the only book we did, that was the main book. We did a book of African-American poetry. Book of the Month Club generously gave us this wonderful new, huge anthology called "World Poetry," and it's a $50 book and they gave us 1,000 copies of those to give out to schools and to libraries in particular. =
LAMB: Who--who paid for your books?
Mr. CARROLL: The Growers of Washington Apples. It was--they were doing the whole Johnny Appleseed theme, so...
LAMB: And this keeps you going? You make enough money to live on all this?
Mr. CARROLL: Well, it's not so much that. It's--it's--we were all volunteer up until about a year ago. And then I got a--a--a--a fellowship to continue it more on a full-time basis. But it--it--the--the goal--I--you know, I was never big into poetry. That's new to me as well. And--especially when Joseph passed away, the onus was on me to learn more about it and to talk about it.
And what I've discovered is that, you know, it's not a luxury in life, it's not something on the periphery, but it's essential to who we are. And that's our goal, is to show that, and also to promote literacy and to get books out in an age of technology and just this wonderful, tangible product that you can hold onto and--and read and make comments and then read to your children and share and that sort of thing.
LAMB: And I've got this book here that you also prepared called "Appleseed Giveaway" and it's--it's a...
Mr. CARROLL: That's--that's actually something we just printed out. That was--the...
LAMB: It's from your Web site.
Mr. CARROLL: There are about three of those, right.
LAMB: And--and what--what did you do with the Web site?
Mr. CARROLL: Every day I wrote in a journal about--as I dro--I drove 6,500 miles across the country, and so every day I'd report in what I'd done, what I had seen, that sort of thing. And the Academy of American Poets set up this Web site, www.poets.org, and I would send it in to the--Bruno, our Web master, and he would put it up there, along with photos. And it was just a day-to-day account of what I was experiencing. And it's somewhat stream-of-conscious because I would come in at 1:00 in the morning to the hotel after driving five, 10 hours. And I was just completely exhausted from lugging books around, that sort of thing, and then just type in and say, `Here's what I did,' and--and just the experiences I'd have along the way.
LAMB: Now this www.poets.org--was it hard to get that address?
Mr. CARROLL: Well, I didn't--they got it, so that was the wonderful thing.
LAMB: Who's they?
Mr. CARROLL: The Academy of Americans Poets. It's their Web site.
LAMB: And what do you do now? If we were to follow you around every day...
Mr. CARROLL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...what's your life like?
Mr. CARROLL: Now it's--now I'm back home in the office. And that was actually the whole point of this. For five years I'd been working out of an office, and we would send books to a jury waiting room or a supermarket and I had a sense that they--that the response was good. But I wanted to know for certain, so that--the only way to know how poetry is perceived across the country is to get in a truck, to give out the books in farm communities, inner cities, rural areas, all different communities throughout the country.
LAMB: Is there a...
Mr. CARROLL: And there were some--sorry?
LAMB: ...another book there?
Mr. CARROLL: I--not certain. Maybe, maybe. I--it's more--it wasn't to do a book out of it. It was really to gauge the response. And the trip was overwhelming for me on a personal level. One of the places I stopped in was the Louisiana State Penitentiary. This is a maximum-security prison outside of New Orleans in Angola. And I was expecting to stay there for a hour just to really drop off books and sort of make a ceremonial presentation. I ended up spending about six hours. The warden, Burl Cain, was i--extremely gracious, and Kathy Jett, who runs their literacy program, took me all over--it's an 18,000-acre area, and it's just sort of out in the middle of nowhere. A--in fact, when people escape, they just sort of wait for them to come back 'cause there's nowhere to go. And, I mean, they don't--I mean, they obviously go after them, but it's just a huge, desolate area. And she took me all around to the different places.
And it's an extraordinary experience to be walking through this prison. And even though, obviously, the place is--you know, there are bars throughout, once you're inside in certain common areas, there's nothing between you and the inmates. And to go up to people and to hand them a book of poetry and to talk to them about why poetry is essential to them and have them recite Maya Angelou or to talk about the on--the poems that they write--and these are big guys. I mean, these--I mean, there's a cologne commercial that came out a couple of years ago I thought was fascinating. It was like, `What ty--what--what's a real man?' And one of the lines was, `He'll pass on poetry.' And I thought about that as I was going through and talking to these guys that--if whoever wrote that ad ever wants to take a trip down to Angola and, you know, see if real men write poetry. And these--this is how they express themselves.
LAMB: Did you ever have a moment on your trip where no one cared?
Mr. CARROLL: No. I would have people who would say, `No, thank you,' if we were in a huge, you know, a su--in a supermarket, and--and one of the reasons we choose supermarkets is 'cause you've got people from all walks of life. It's very democratic. But no one--people would say, `No, thank you,' but something--not a whole group of people. It would be the occasional passerby who was running from one stop to the other. And frankly, three years ago I probably would've said the same thing. Poetry was not why I got involved with this project. It was the issue of literacy and books that really appealed to me, and Brodsky took care of the poetry part.
LAMB: How many different places would you try to hit a day?
Mr. CARROLL: I had anywhere from four to 10 events a day. So it was--it was non-stop. And--for...
LAMB: How did the press treat you?
Mr. CARROLL: Very kindly, actually, very well. And I think it's--it's certainly w--and--no other organization does what we do, so there's the unusualness, the uniqueness factor. But I think a lot of reporters would say that they were skeptical at first, but they'd come along to the giveaways and they'd see how enthusiastically people received the books. And I think all reporters and journalists are poets at heart. They love words, they love language and they want to see it flourish, too, in an age that we're increasingly becoming more visual and more technological.
And--and that's why I think there's such a nostalgia for letters and for poems, not just that they give us insight but they're about craft. And I think we're losing that, that oftentimes things are become more formulaic, that we're seeing this in movies, where it's essentially people running and things blowing up. And there's only so much of that we can take. And poems and letters are about investing time and effort and almost humanity into something.
Thomas Paine has a wonderful quote from "The American Crisis," which followed up his--the first book that they gave out, where he says, `It will--what we obtain too cheap we esteem too lightly.' And I think there's a reason why handwritten letters are making a comeback and poetry is making a comeback, because they take time, and we realize that when we pour ourself into something, we get much more out of it as well.
LAMB: Which, of all the letters in this book...
Mr. CARROLL: Mm.
LAMB: ...or more than we've talked about so far, are your favorites, that you think are well-written?
Mr. CARROLL: I go back and forth on them all. The--two in the Civil War chapter really blew my mind. One was by Sherman writing to the city of Atlanta--it was actually to the mayor, but it was really to all the citizens, and it is the most riveting and passionate letter I've ever come across. And they had written to him saying, `Please don't destroy the city because we have elderly people, we have pregnant women, and this will bring all sorts of calamity.' And he said, `You brought war unto this country, and it's my job to finish it.'
And he goes beyond that to say, `But look, when this is over, I will be your protector and you can count on me for, you know, my last cracker, my last biscuit,' whatever the phrase that he uses. And so what I--I'm not saying I agree either way with what he's saying, but just the sense of passion in it is absolutely enthralling.
The other letter, which is very similar in a way--and it was more the story of finding this letter and the progression of it. David Hunter was a Union general, and he learned that the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, had issued an executive order that black soldiers were not to be taken prisoner, they were to be shot and executed or returned into slavery. When Hunter heard about this he went ballistic, and he wrote a letter to Jefferson Davis--and it was unprecedented for Union generals to be writing to the Confederate president--saying that, `If--if this is true--if what you're saying is true, I'm gonna personally take out Southern soldiers from my prisons and execute them.'
And he was really--this is--he felt very intensely about this, about blacks were fighting for their freedom and that Davis was incurring all sorts of extra hostilities on them. And so I wanted to see what was--what was Davis' response to this? Well, he chose to ignore it. But in looking through a biography on Jefferson Davis, it turns out the two of them were friends as young men and that, in some ways, Hunter had almost saved Davis' life because he was going on a raft through the riv--river there and Davis and his men were starving to death--this was when they were very young. And Hunter essentially saved them. And they kept in touch throughout the years and, of course, when the war came, they split into opposing camps.
But then about a year after finding that letter and the story with it, I was reading through an anthology of letters by Southern women, and one of them was to a general who had just--to a--yeah, a general who had just burned her house down for no reason. Really, there was no reason to it. It wasn't in the way. He was--she wasn't harboring soldiers, nothing like that. And it turns out it was to David Hunter. And so she was accusing him of all the barbarity that he was accusing Jefferson Davis of and just--and so the--both letters are in there, see the interplay of the two ideas.
My favorite story in the book, along with the Choctaw Indians, is the story of the Navajo code talkers and that--someone of my generation, I don't think, is familiar with that story. But our military code in the South Pacific during World War II was the Navajo language, and it's just a fascinating story that we recruited Navajos, who volunteered, too, to create a code based on the Navajo language that would be used, and it was a brilliant move because it's not mathematical. Unless you know the language, you can't--it's--it's impenetrable.
So I--that letter I searched for for years. It's never been published before. And I found a widow who agreed to give me her husband's letters. They were not--the soldiers were not allowed to tell anybody, including their family, for 24 years after the war what they did, it was so top secret. And so to find the letter written at that period, during the war, where--and it's a very poignant letter. He's saying that, `I wish I could tell you what we're doing and I can't.' And the strain is so much that he tells her, you know, `Just leave me. It's not worth it. Just find someone else who you can be more open with.' And not only has that letter never been published, no letter by a code talker written during the war has ever been published before, and so that was a real find.
LAMB: Now was there any particular place that you found more letters than others, I--I mean, physical place?
Mr. CARROLL: Well, the Library of Congress was certainly a font of, you know, letters and going through, scrolling through just thousands of letters.
LAMB: And you mentioned earlier that there are letters here that have never been published before. How many, would you say?
Mr. CARROLL: I never did a final count on that, but it's--it's a--a large part of the book. Actually, the letter that gives me chills every time I re-read it but which has never been published before was written from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. And I found that at the Holocaust Museum here in Washington, DC. It was not on their computer because they've pretty much cataloged--and I think it was a newer letter. And I was--I sort of cheated a bit because I was going through the file box looking for other letters that I had requested and I saw this one mentioned, just from the tab, and so I started reading it. And it's essentially--it's an American soldier who's part of the liberation, and he's writing home to his parents as to what he's seen, having just walked through the Bergen-Belsen camp.
LAMB: Do you remember--I--I wrote it down, but I can't find the...
Mr. CARROLL: Yeah, I'll find it as we talk. It's...
Mr. CARROLL: And this was the same camp where Anne Frank died. And it's just--he--he begins it by saying--I think I can find it fairly quickly--that, `What I'm about to describe to you'--here, he says, `Dear folks, I am writing this from deep inside Germany. You are probably familiar with the story behind that. At any rate, censorship apparently still denies an explanation. In the following pages I shall attempt to record a sight that is well beyond the pale of verbal and a written description, a sight that will sear my memory for all time to come. I cannot expect you to believe it. Indeed, I who have seen it cannot.'
And then he goes on for several pages, just going through item by item and weaving through more philosophical--or the musings on how one group of individuals could do this to another. And it's--to--to hold this letter, it's the only letter in the collection that I actually held in my hands the original copy. The other ones were either transcripts or people would send me a copy 'cause they didn't want to lose the original. And that's where, I think, something like e-mail fails us. E-mail has a lot of advantages. It's wonderful for business, it's great for overseas communication. But to see the nuances of the handwriting, the little splotches of mud, the imperfections, the nuances is what brings a letter alive.
And that goes back to, I think, what we were saying--what I was saying about we're becoming more formulaic and we're losing that sense of craft. And we're becoming almost sanitized, where with computers and--all these things are wonderful advances, but we just saw not long ago just the--when the G4 satellite went out and millions of Americans were stranded with their cell phones and their beepers. And when we become so dependent on technology like that, the ramifications can be very serious.
LAMB: Where did you find--or what--what was a surprise, where you--you weren't expecting to find something and you found it?
Mr. CARROLL: Serendipity played a huge degree in this book, which, again, is one of those terrifying bodies 'cause you think--you're happy with all the letters you've found, but you wonder how many more you missed because they're just out there hovering. And one example--I'm--I'm adopted and my birth mother established contact with me several years ago, and we decided to correspond, in the beginning, to get to know one another.
I really wanted a letter in the book, in the Letters of Family section, that reflected adoption. And, of course, I wasn't going to put one of my own letters in there for--just 'cause the--the quality wasn't high enough and it would--I think it'd be a little too self-indulgent. So I--I went after a--a--I approached adoption organizations across the country saying, `Is there one letter that you've--you've come across that just--you feel really expresses what it's like to be adopted and--and the positive or maybe even negative aspects to it?' Couldn't find a thing. We couldn't come up with anything.
And it just dawned on me, `Why not call the intermediary in my own adoption and ask her?' So I called Pam and I said, `Pam, have you come across something like this?' And she said, `You know what? I have.' Never been published before. It's in the book. It's by Michelle Song. And it's a beautiful letter, where she's writing to her birth mother, whom she hasn't met and doesn't even know is still alive. But they've put it in the file in case her mother did appear.
And she talks about--it's one of the last letters in Letters of Family. And she talks about, `I have this wonderful life.' She's a grown woman, with an extraordinary husband and all these things, but, `There's this hole where I'm missing something, and I'm just curious on who you are and what happened and whether I was wanted or not.' And it turns out that her mother was alive and that they es--they eventually did establish contact.
LAMB: It's page 355. I found it.
Mr. CARROLL: Three fifty-five, yes.
LAMB: Did--who--in your family, how many kids?
Mr. CARROLL: Two.
LAMB: Other adopted?
Mr. CARROLL: No, no. I'm the--I'm the--I'm the one.
LAMB: What--what do your parents do?
Mr. CARROLL: My father is a publisher. He runs Carroll Publishing, and they do government directories, which is sort of Who's Who in government. It's not for the government. He takes information and creates these directories that are used and defense charts, that sort of thing. And my mom is a Realtor.
LAMB: And how did you come to find your real mom?
Mr. CARROLL: She found me through the agency--that they called--I was actually walking out the door one evening--it was a few summers ago--about to have dinner with some friends. And a woman called and said, `Is this Andrew Carroll?' I said, `Yes, it is.' And she said, `Do you know you're adopted?' I said, `Yes, I do.' And she said, `Your birth mother would like to establish contact with you. Now you don't have to if you don't want to, but if you would like to, I can help you do that.'
And I always wonder if they ever got the wrong Andrew Carroll, if, you know, there was some other Andrew Carroll in Washington who picked up the phone and wasn't adopted and was struck to learn that he was or--such as the case may be. But it's--it's--it's been a very emotional experience. And I think it was--to start off by writing letters to one another was--it turned out, I think, to be the best way to go because we could sort of gradually get into it. It wasn't an overwhelming meeting face-to-face. It took us almost a year before we met.
But I'm very close with my adoptive parents, and my mom and I write all the time and my dad was great. Before I went off to college, he would write, you know, fatherly letters of advice. And that's something I'd love to see be renewed. And that's why there was a very specific intent in doing the Letters of Family chapter because those are those letters from uncles and mothers and fathers to their children and--and children to their parents, where, you know, we sort of communicate throughout the generations and--and exchange wisdom and what I've learned and what he's learned.
LAMB: Was it difficult with your adoptive parents--I don't know--I don't know the right terminology...
Mr. CARROLL: That's OK.
LAMB: ...when they've--knew that you were having contact with your birth mother?
Mr. CARROLL: No, I think--they were very open to it. And it's--my--my a--my birth mother and I do not spend a lot of time together. We've most--we've most--mostly just correspond, and she's an extraordinary person and we get along very well. But both my par--there's an interesting sort of age difference because my parents are almost in their 70s and my birth mom is in her 40s. She was very young at the time. And I--I--for some reason, I sort of have an affinity for the older generation. I like that. And I guess everyone talks about the 20-somethings and our love for the retro and Frank Sinatra passing away and that sort of thing. And I--I have a little bit of that, too, so I'm very close with my parents.
LAMB: Why didn't you put a letter in that you'd written?
Mr. CARROLL: Oh, I just--again, the quality wasn't nearly high enough and, you know, I just didn't want, really, to impose myself on the book.
LAMB: How long are your letters when you write to people?
Mr. CARROLL: I've started handwriting letters and I have horrible handwriting, so it takes me a little longer to write them, but they're generally about two pages or three pages when I sit down to do it. And I'll--I'll whip out an e-mail every once in a while. I--I do it instead of making a phone call. So I think of--instead of silence, I will try and send something through the electronic ethers.
LAMB: As you were looking through letters, who had the best handwriting you saw anywhere?
Mr. CARROLL: I did see a lot of typed letters and a lot of transcripts and a lot of facsimiles. Ronald Reagan's handwriting was actually very interesting. It was a very neat sort of s--I don't want to say scrawl 'cause it's mutually exclusive, but it's--it was--it was actually very good. But certainly, handwriting was better in the olden days than it is now because we can type things, so we're not used to--to doing that.
LAMB: What about the--in the early days...
Mr. CARROLL: Mm.
LAMB: ...the--when they would sign off `Your Most Obedient Servant.'
Mr. CARROLL: Mm.
LAMB: Even when they hated each other, they'd sign off that way.
Mr. CARROLL: Yeah, they...
LAMB: They--they were on different sides of the war.
Mr. CARROLL: That's gradually gone away. One of my favorite stories from that, which is not in the book because I think it was actually a British general writing to one of his colleagues, ended a letter--he hated the man. He ha--and he ended, you know, with that, oh, `Most Obedient Servant.' And he put in parenthesis, `which you know damn well I'm not,' you know. And it--it didn't make it into the book 'cause it wasn't an American letter, but I just love that because you read these letters from slaves to their masters or just total enemies, and they end with that 'cause it's the formality. And you know that they don't mean it, but--and finally, someone put the little parenthetical comment, which--which I enjoyed.
LAMB: As we talked earlier, the letter from the Birmingham jail...
Mr. CARROLL: Yes.
LAMB: ...over at the Newseum here in town--I don't know if you've ever seen this...
Mr. CARROLL: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...they have the actual cement block that--the sides of the Birmingham jail...
Mr. CARROLL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...and the gate--I mean, the--on the--on--on the door itself. What's the story about it? And--and were you able to look beyond just the letter?
Mr. CARROLL: Yes. And--and I put that in the book in the headnotes, again, try and give people a little glimpses about what was the story behind the writing of these letters. Martin Luther King wrote--began that letter on the margins of a newspaper he had and would sort of scrawl it along the corners. Then finally, his attorney smuggled in some actual paper so that he could--but that was a handwritten letter which then his secretary eventually typed up. But he had a lot of time to think about it 'cause he was confined in there. And this is just what came out. And it's just--it's a very powerful letter.
LAMB: Do--do you know if the original copy is anywhere in any archive?
Mr. CARROLL: I don't know if it's at the Newseum or if it's--I was just at the National Civil Rights Museum at the--the--formerly the Rain--Lorraine Motel, where he was shot, and they have a whole exhibition set up about that. And we gave out some books of African-American poetry that they had re--that they had requested. And then I went over to Graceland after because the National Civil Rights Museum is in Memphis. Almost got arrested at Graceland, actually.
LAMB: For wh--what reason?
Mr. CARROLL: You're not allowed to distribute things, I found out, in front of the house. That's illegal. And I asked--I said, `Well, what the penalty?' It's, `We'll have you arrested like that. So you don't want to hand out another book.'
LAMB: What's the reason for that?
Mr. CARROLL: Don't know. He didn't tell me. He just said, `This is Elvis Presley Enterprises and you just don't do it.' So I thought it would be un-American to be arrested by Elvis Presley Enterprises.
LAMB: Where's this all going for you? Where are you going to end up?
Mr. CARROLL: Well, in many ways, what I'd love to do is be a high school English teacher. I think about the teachers who inspired me along the way. And Yeats has a wonderful quote, where he says that, `Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.' And I think about the teachers who lit that fire in me, a love of language and of words. And--but I'd love to do more creative writing. I'm doing a lot of writing now. And if I can balance that with teaching, I think that would be ideal.
LAMB: Who, in your life, taught you in a classroom that had an impact on you that might have some--that results in this book?
Mr. CARROLL: Many teachers. Neal Tonkin, my high school English teacher...
Mr. CARROLL: ...who--Sidwell Friends, Quaker school, and he had been an attorney before that, and he would pace around the class. And we were almost like a jury. But he--he used the Socratic method, so he brought us into the experience and he would ask us questions and he would throw chalk at us if we didn't get the right answers. But he was--he was a very tough teacher, but there was a lot of love behind it. And I still keep in touch with him to this day. And I think, in many ways, he inspired that book with other--John Alco, an acting teacher of mine, and Michael Kelly, back in sixth grade--all of these teachers who really had such a part in--in sharing their passion and their energy for--for words and for language and literature.
Actually, another professor of--Columbia, Kenneth Koch, who's a poet, and also Andrew Delbanco, who has a wonderful book out called "Required Reading." And the first line of that book is--he says that, `This book is about the idea that individual human beings can break free from the structures of thought into which they are born and, by reimagining the world, can change it.' And I love that idea of literature changing the world and changing how we think and how we view it.
As I drove cross-country I met a lot of people who love poetry. And I just found that they almost have a--a greater sense of the meaning of life and a passion for living. And it just seems to grow in me every year as it goes on, and it's thanks to all these people.
LAMB: Your tour went for how many miles again?
Mr. CARROLL: Six thousand five hundred. It should've been a lot less, but I got lost repeatedly, day after day after day. So...
LAMB: Did you go by yourself?
Mr. CARROLL: Yes, went solo.
LAMB: And it was all paid for by the Ryder Truck people, the...
Mr. CARROLL: Ryder Truck gave me the truck and then the Wash--and the Growers of Washington Apples and the Academy of American Poets, Doubletree Hotels. It was a real group effort, and that was what was so inspiring about it. So many people pitched in to make it happen. And...
LAMB: So what do you conclude about this country after driving the 6,500 miles?
Mr. CARROLL: I was very optimistic about this country before I left. I am almost in a state of bliss about it now. Obviously, there's a lot wrong with it and a lot of problems that I would see along the way. But the people across the country were so incredibly gracious and hospitable everywhere I went--everywhere, in cities, in inner--in rural areas. It didn't matter. And I--you know, I would be c--I was going from Cleveland to Toledo, which is a straight shot. And if you put a monkey in a truck and lock the steering wheel, he would make it, and I ended up in Michigan somehow.
And as I was driving through rural Michigan, I stopped at a farmhouse 'cause I was just horribly lost. And this very gracious woman said, `Come on in. You know, I'll give you some coffee and some pie and make a phone call, and we'll get you back on the road.' And I found that wherever I went.
And we also have a wonderful sense of whimsy, Americans. And I don't think we have a mo--a monopoly on this. But wherever I would go, a sense of just quirky little things you see, you know, across the way, and poetry's everywhere. I saw it in Las Vegas and in, you know, signs on the road, and--and I really like that about this country.
LAMB: So was there a question that you were asked so often that you said to yourself, `If they ask it one more time, I'm going to scream'?
Mr. CARROLL: No. Everyone had different questions. The great thing was--I love giving books to kids, and so Harcourt Brace gave us 5,000 hardcover children's books, give those out at Head Start centers and schools and that sort of thing. And the kids had the best questions. You know, `Do you have a girlfriend? How much do you make? How can I get my poetry published?' These were first graders. And, `Can you count to 100?' all these wonderful--just out of the blue. And--but mostly they--they wanted more poetry books. And they love words, they love language, and that's the kind of thing that we want to keep encouraging them to have a love for 'cause I think they'll--they'll have it for the rest of their life if we can really make it strong.
LAMB: What did you find that the media found interesting? I mean, what kind of photographs did they want to take of you and what--you know, what kind of venue?
Mr. CARROLL: Well, they definitely were surprised that the books were being responded to the way they were, that there was an enthusiasm for them, not just, `Oh, 'cause it's free,' but because it was a book of poetry. And we gave out books at the Pentagon, and it was fascinating to have these men and women with more bars and stripes than you can imagine, and come up and say, `Do you have that Robert Frost poem in there? I really love that.' Or there's a poem by Emily Dickinson--I was giving out books in front of the White House and there were these big, burly wrestling guys who were on a school field trip, and I was handing out books and they came over and asked for books. And I said, `Do you g--this is--these are poetry books.' And they said, `Yeah, we know. We wa--we want 'em,' you know. And--and I think that surprised the media a lot and surprised me to some degree as well.
LAMB: There--there's a--there's a letter that--I--I guess it kind of surprises me it was in there, and I wanted to ask you about it...
Mr. CARROLL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...from William Lederer. Who is he?
Mr. CARROLL: William Lederer is the author of the "Ugly American," and he talked about, in that book, sort of the boorish attitude of Americans overseas. I read that letter...
LAMB: Where'd you find it?
Mr. CARROLL: Where did I find that? I think it was in a collection of his writings. And I--I tried to read that letter once, and I couldn't get through it, I started choking up. And it's a story that he tells, a true story. It was Christmastime, he was in France with his family. He was having the most miserable Christmas he could ever imagine. The restaurant was in...
LAMB: But you gotta explain what was going on among his own family.
Mr. CARROLL: Oh, that's--yeah. They were all fighting. The car had broken down, I think. It had been raining outside. And his wife, who barely spoke French, was trying to order and she got the wrong thing, and so he yelled at her and the kids were, you know, all restless, and the whole...
LAMB: `I was tired and miserable to leave. I noticed that the other customers were eating in stoney silence. The only person who seemed happy was an American sailor.'
Mr. CARROLL: An American sailor who was writing a love letter. And a flower woman came in all wet from being outside in the cold rain and she went up to the piano player--it's almost like a little Hemingway short story, but it's all true--and said, `Oh, it's been a miserable night. I haven't made a single franc.' And he sort of showed his empty tipping plate and they hadn't made any money, and everyone was miserable.
A German couple was fighting, a French couple was, again, sitting in stoney silence. And this American soldier went over to the flower woman, just as he was sealing up his letter, and said, `Can I buy two--two flowers from you?' And she said, `Of course.' He gave her, I think, the equivalent of $20 or something for the two flowers. And she's like, `Well, let me get you some change.' He said, `Don't worry about it. It's my Christmas gift to you.' So she split the money with the piano player.
The sailor put one of the flowers in the envelope, sealed it, went over to William Lederer's wife and said, `I want to give this as a Christmas gi--present to your lovely daughter,' which was a wonderful compliment. And Lederer writes that Chris--and he was writing this to the admiral of the Navy, saying, `I want you to know what one of your sailors did.' And he said, `Christmas exploded throughout the restaurant,' and that the piano player started pounding out "Good King Wencelas," and the flower woman was sort of waving her flowers and the Germans started singing and the French started singing.
And these 18 people, who had been having the most miserable Christmas, suddenly were singing in unison and having the--and he said, `It was the best Christmas we ever had.' And what I love about that letter is it just shows how one person can walk into a room and just electrify it in that kind of passion and that sense of--of inspiration. I just--I love that letter.
LAMB: Now have you s--felt it yourself, walking into a room and...
Mr. CARROLL: I've pr--I've experienced it from people who've come in--I was on a train coming back from New York to Washington, and we were all crammed together. It was at Christmastime. I had a very similar experience, actually. And the heat was out and we were all hungry and tired and no one was talking, and this elderly man burrowed his way to the food car and came back with beers and chips and stuff and started--and--and soda pops and just started handing them out to people. And by the time we rolled into Union Station, we were singing Christmas carols together. It was extraordinary. So I've been the recipient of that, but I just--I love that letter. And that's the last chapter of the book, is Letters of Faith and Hope. And I wanted to end it on a very positive note.
LAMB: Well, what about your own experience where you were the light in the room?
Mr. CARROLL: Mm-hmm. Well, I--I think it's--the focus was the poetry--were the poetry books. I mean, that's what people wanted. And it's--to give out something you love is an extraordinary experience. So do I have time for one quick story?
LAMB: One minute.
Mr. CARROLL: One minute. We're putting poetry in the Yellow Pages, and the first phone book company that did this was in New York. Ed Bradley read a poem called "The Day Lady Died." It's by Frank O'Hara, and it's essentially the day that Ella Fitzgerald--that he found out Ella Fitzgerald passed away. And it's Frank O'Hara walking through the streets of New York, and he comes across the New York Post photo with her face on it. She's just passed away. And he immediately
go--goes back into a reverie of hearing her.
Last four lines of the poem--he's reading this in front of 400 people, this is Ed Bradley--says, `And I'm sweating a lot by now and I'm thinking about leaning on the john door in the five spot while she whispered a song along the keyboard to Mal Waldron,' and everyone and I stopped breathing. When he read that, 400 people gasped at once, and it was the best theory on why poetry's important and letters and all those things and words and the magic they have. And it just--I--I'll never forget that experience.
LAMB: As Andrew Carroll told us earlier in the program, this is the symbol of the tip of a pen...
Mr. CARROLL: Yes.
LAMB: ...on the cover of his book, "Letters of a Nation." And we thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. CARROLL: Thank you very much.
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