BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Dorie McCullough Lawson, what is "Posterity" about?
DORIE MCCULLOUGH LAWSON, AUTHOR, "POSTERITY: LETTERS OF GREAT AMERICANS TO THEIR CHILDREN": "Posterity" is a collection of letters from great Americans to their children. And the letters go from 1664 all the way up to 1998.
LAMB: Why did you do this?
LAWSON: I did it because I am a reader of biography, and I -- whenever I`m reading biography, I love the parts about family and I love the letters. And I had read a collection of N.C. Wyeth's letters and Theodore Roosevelt`s letters. And when I had my own children, it was a book that I wanted to read. Thought, Oh, I wonder what other great Americans have written to their children, and I wanted to read those letters and I couldn`t find it.
And at first, I wanted my father to do the book. My father is the historian David McCullough. And I thought that it was a good book for him to do because I wanted to read it. And he loved the idea. But I realized after a while -- he thought it was a terrific idea, but he wasn`t going to do it. So I went to work on it myself.
LAMB: How did you do it?
LAWSON: I first began by compiling a big list of great Americans, hundreds of people. And it`s amazing that -- then I started to look to see who had children and who didn`t. And it`s amazing to see how many great Americans didn`t have children, and that cut the list down very quickly. Then I began looking at those who did have children, whether there were collections of letters that were available, and just kind of cut the list down and down and down until I had approximately 3,000 letters that I read. And then I chose my favorites.
LAMB: How long did it take you to do that?
LAWSON: It took me three-and-a-half years.
LAMB: How did you go about finding the letters?
LAWSON: Well, there is something -- a reference book -- a series of reference books called "The Dictionary of American Biography," and all notable Americans through history, many notable Americans through history are in that reference book. And at the end of each entry, it tells you where the collection of their papers is held. So it was a question of tracking them down at libraries and archives and universities. Then I also had contacts with some of the families directly. Sometimes letters were sent to me. People heard about the project and people would send me some pieces. And that`s how I did it.
LAMB: You reference a fellow named Mike Hill in the book?
LAWSON: Yes. Mike Hill is a researcher, and I hired Mike to help me. He did a lot of the roadwork. He was out, going around making copies of letters. And he would send me enormous binders, Here are all of the letters of John Dewey to his children. Here are all the Laura Ingalls Wilder Letters. And he did most of the travel.
LAMB: How old are Ingram, Nathaniel and Luke?
LAWSON: They are 7, 4 and 9 months.
LAMB: So what letter in this book -- how many are there, by the way?
LAWSON: That`s why I didn`t travel.
LAMB: How many letters are there in the book?
LAWSON: Roughly 100.
LAMB: OK. What`s the one letter...
LAWSON: The one letter? All right...
LAMB: ... the one letter that you would want your kids to read that might give them guidance?
LAWSON: Wow. Well, I think that each child is different, so it may be a different letter for each child. For my daughter, I think the W.E.B. Dubois letter to his daughter is one of the most poignant pieces in the book.
LAMB: Daughter -- to Rosetta?
LAWSON: Yes. No, that`s Frederick Douglass. This...
LAMB: Oh, that`s right. Yes. I`ve got it -- I actually had it marked.
LAWSON: This is to Yolande.
LAWSON: And it`s a letter telling her what he expects out of her, and also to have faith in herself, and that he expects her to be a wonderful woman. It`s a terrific letter.
LAMB: And the letter was written to her -- where was she?
LAWSON: She was 14 years old, and she had just gone to England to go to a boarding school. It was a privilege for her to attend.
LAMB: It says, "Above all, remember, dear, that you have a great opportunity. You are in one of the world`s best schools in one of the world`s greatest modern empires. Millions of boys and girls all over this world would give almost anything that they possessed to be where you are. You are there by no desert or merit of yours, but only by lucky chance."
Why would he say that to her?
LAWSON: Because of her -- her family and that she was able to -- he was able to provide her with this opportunity. But he does -- he goes on to tell her what he expects her to do, to take herself in hand and do hard things while she`s there, read for discipline, work hard, enjoy it. And he says, too, that it`s the you beneath the skin that matters.
LAMB: Yes, because he says, "People will wonder about at your dear brown and sweet crinkly hair," distinguishing her from a lot of the white kids, probably, she was in school with.
LAWSON: Right. Exactly.
LAMB: How old is your daughter?
LAWSON: She`s 7. Have you read her this? Have you read her any of these, by the way?
LAWSON: Yes, I have. I`ve read them quite a few of the letters. They love Alexander Graham Bell`s letter to his daughters. Alexander Graham Bell wrote a letter to his daughters about a trip he was on, and he sends -- he had seen a stingray, and he sends his daughters the lips of the stingray and the tail. And he sends them through the mail. And he was a wonderful educator of children and an educator of the deaf. But in teaching children, he felt strongly that they should learn by doing. And here`s this example of him -- he wants his children to see what a stingray looks like, and he puts it in the mail to them.
LAMB: Also, there`s a letter to his daughter, Marian "Daisy" Bell, when she was 21.
LAMB: Get your book, if you don`t mind.
LAWSON: No. What page?
LAMB: Page 161. The reason why, I want you to help me read these jokes.
LAWSON: Oh, the corny jokes?
LAWSON: Yes. What was the point of the jokes?
LAWSON: He was very busy crunching numbers, so to speak, working on data that had to do with genetics and the deaf. I think that it really was a break from his work. And he loved corny jokes, and he sat down and took a break from his work and sent her these jokes. And I included it in the book because they are so corny, and to see this incredible scientist and inventor, that he would spend the time to send this to his daughter I thought was hysterical.
LAMB: Now, you point out in the deck introducing the letter that his wife, Mabel, was deaf.
LAMB: And how bad was his hearing?
LAWSON: His -- I don`t -- his hearing, I`m not sure. But she was completely deaf, and he was an educator of the deaf. And his father was, as well.
LAMB: Let`s alternate the jokes. I`ll start off.
LAWSON: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: "An Italian count the other day introduced his American heiress to a friend as his `financee,` a very appropriate term by and by."
LAWSON: "The Queen of Holland`s latest remark to her husband -- `Is my crown on straight?` "
LAMB: "Never take a 12:50 train, for it is 10 to 1 if you catch it."
LAWSON: "Why is a pretty girl like a mirror? Because she is a good looking lass."
LAMB: "Heat travels faster than cold because you can easily catch cold."
LAWSON: "Why is a stick of candy like a horse? The more you lick it, the faster it goes."
LAMB: One more. "When a girl faints, why should you always bring more than one doctor? If she is not brought two, she will die."
LAWSON: Corny. Corny, corny.
LAMB: He also, though, goes on to write a lot more in here. He says, "I have just sent a suicide note to Mr. Kennan, for I doubt whether he has in his collection a more curious cause of suicide." And he`s telling, I guess, stories here?
LAWSON: Yes, he`s telling stories and about things that he`s read. And it really seems to be sort of a release for him to sit down and write to her.
LAMB: Who -- in your experience, who wrote the most to their children that you found?
LAWSON: Who wrote the most?
LAMB: Or who wrote a lot?
LAWSON: Theodore Roosevelt wrote all the time to his children. Ansel Adams writes a lot to his children. Frederick Law Olmsted, over his entire life, writes to his children in such a wide range. I mean, there`s some very funny letters that he writes, and then also some of, I think, the most touching letters in the book, toward the end of his life.
LAMB: Some are mean.
LAWSON: Some are very mean. Jack London`s letters are shocking. They`re just so, so cruel.
LAMB: I actually had it open to that page.
LAMB: I wanted to -- 181. First of all, a little background on who Jack London was.
LAWSON: Jack London was a writer. His most famous short story was "Call of the Wild." It`s the short story that sold the most of any short story. What was the page?
LAMB: It`s 181.
LAWSON: Oh, 181.
LAMB: You know, when Mikhail Gorbachev was here for BOOKNOTES, I was asking what he read, and he said he had in his library and had read most of Jack London`s work. Why would that be? Any reason?
LAWSON: I don`t know why it would be for him, but it`s -- his work is very adventurous and manly and carries you right through. He`s -- but to his daughters, he`s just so cruel. And I think that these letters are an example, also -- often, a parent, when they`re -- in writing to their child, is writing to themselves, I think. And in these letters, I think that he really -- he`s addressed the letter to his daughter and he`s sending it to his 12-year-old daughter, but he`s really aiming the letters at his ex-wife, who he`s not -- whom he`s not too fond of.
LAMB: You say someone had shot his prize mare in the head. He was losing crops at his ranch. His finances were in trouble. He was fatally ill with diseased kidneys. And during the summer, a dream of his lifetime literally went up in smoke on his 1,500-acre Beauty Ranch in California. London was rebuilding a grand stone mansion, which on August the 22nd burned to the ground.
Why don`t you start off, if you don`t mind, reading that first letter there to Joan. And you say...
LAMB: ... she was 12 years old.
LAMB: And if you need those glasses...
LAWSON: I`ll put them on.
LAMB: ... be our guest.
LAWSON: Here we go. Thank you.
"Glen Ellen, August 24, 1913. Dear Joan, I feel too miserable to write this at my desk. I`m sitting up in bed to write it. First, please remember that I am your father. I have fed you, clothed you and housed you and loved you since the moment you first drew breath. I have all of a father`s heart of love for you.
"And now we come to brass tacks. What have you done for me in all of the days of your life? What do you feel for me? Am I merely your meal ticket? Do you look upon me merely as a creature of whim or fancy or fantasy that compels him to care for you and take care of you? Because he is a fool who gives much and receives -- well, receives nothing.
"Please answer the forgoing questions. I want to know how I stand with you. You have your dreams of education. I try to give you the best of my wisdom. You write me about the demands of the U.C. in relation to selection of high school courses, I reply, one by telegram, two, by letter, and I received no word from you. Am I dirt under your feet? Am I beneath your contempt in every way, save as a meal ticket? Do you love me at all? What do I mean to you?"
LAMB: Let me interrupt and ask you -- how much research, then, would you have to do around these letters and what the circumstances were?
LAWSON: I would have to find out as much as I could about what was happening, and I often would do that through -- in this case, I would do that through biographies and other collections of letters. Jack London`s letters have been edited very well, with notes telling you about what was happening to his life -- in his life at that time. But each one did require quite a bit of digging, some more than others, to find out what the story was.
LAMB: Did your father or mother write you letters when you were growing up?
LAWSON: My mother. She did.
LAMB: Did you keep them?
LAWSON: Yes, I`ve kept them. We now all talk on the phone all the time, so I don`t have many recent letters from her. But no letters from my father. People ask me that all the time, but there really aren`t any.
LAMB: What are the circumstances that your mother would write you?
LAWSON: She would write just kind of regular letters about what was going on day to day.
LAMB: I mean, you were not, were you -- this was...
LAWSON: I would in college or -- probably through college, and then it stopped because we had talked -- had started talking on the telephone more. Long distance became much less expensive, so...
LAMB: Where did you go to college?
LAWSON: I went to Middlebury College.
LAMB: ... Middlebury, Vermont.
LAMB: And when in your own family did history become interesting to you, or biography?
LAWSON: Oh, my whole life. My father started writing history before I was born. His first book came out the year before I was born. So history was just a part of life for us. And I`m the youngest of five children. And at the dinner table every night we would talk about our days, and then we would hear what was going on in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge or what was going on in the Panama Canal that day in Dad`s work. So I really have had it with me all my life.
LAMB: And what are the four other children in the family?
LAWSON: My sister, Melissa, is the oldest. She`s a mother of three children. By brother, David, is a teacher. He teaches English. And my brother, Billy, who`s a carpenter. And my brother, Geoff, is a lawyer.
LAMB: And you`ve been working with your dad for how long?
LAWSON: For 12 years.
LAMB: What do you do for him?
LAWSON: I`m a lecture agent. And I started when Dad`s book "Truman" came out. I was headed to medical school. And the book came out, and he`d been working on it for 10 years, and it was kind of a dream for all of us to have it hit the way that it did. And I decided I would defer from medical school for a year and help with what needed to be done. And during the course of that year, I realized that there was a business there, being a lecture agent. And so I didn`t go to medical school and started a lecture agency. And that`s what I do.
LAMB: And where do you live now?
LAWSON: I live in Rockport, Maine.
LAMB: And how many people do you represent?
LAWSON: I represent about eight people.
LAMB: What kind of people?
LAWSON: All writers and all terrific speakers.
LAMB: Can you tell us who some are?
LAWSON: Sure. Sure. I can. I represent Michael Beschloss and Frank McCourt, Nathaniel Philbrick, Evan Thomas, David Shribman and Richard Norton Smith.
LAMB: And as a representative, what does someone like that do?
LAWSON: I do everything from finding places for speakers to speak, to negotiating the fees, to determining what kinds of topics they`ll talk about in their speech. And then we do all the nitty-gritty logistics minute by minute. This is who`s picking you up. This is where you`re staying. And then the follow-up.
LAMB: And you`ve done this for 12 years.
LAMB: What has happened in 12 years -- what have you noticed happening about people`s interest in hearing the live speech?
LAWSON: Oh, I think it`s increased, and it`s because there are many, many more agencies like mine because the demand is much more. People love to hear the real person. They love to see them. They love to shake their hand. There`s nothing like it. So I think that it`s increased tremendously.
LAMB: And is there any way of giving us some idea of how large the average audience is for some of the speakers you send out?
LAWSON: There really -- there isn`t an average. I mean, sometimes an event will be as small as 20 people. This weekend, we just -- we`re working on an event where there were 24,000. It goes all over. But maybe the average would probably be somewhere in the 500-to-2,500 range, I would guess.
LAMB: And for somebody who speaks, what would be the average number of speeches they might give in a year?
LAWSON: It entirely depends on the person.
LAMB: What`s the most?
LAWSON: The most of the people I have represented would be 70 speeches a year.
LAMB: And what would the -- you know, how many of that would, say, be college audiences?
LAWSON: Oh, a quarter, maybe. There are corporate audiences, college audiences, celebrity speaker series, subscriber-based series. And then sometimes there`ll be an unusual event, like a real estate developer that`s built a new building, and they want to get prominent people into the building just to see what it looks like, so they have a speaker come and have a lunch, and everyone thinks they`re coming to see the speaker, which they are, but they`re also seeing this terrific, beautiful new building that`s been built.
LAMB: I assume you don`t want to get into specifics, but what is the most that anybody would pay for a speaker in your group? And what would be somewhat -- with the lower range they might pay?
LAWSON: Oh, speakers I represent -- and these are my speakers -- we all know that the fees get astronomical -- would be, oh, between $5,000 and $50,000.
LAMB: But go back to history on this. Have you ever looked at the history of speaking and how many people years and years ago did the same thing of making money off of speakers?
LAWSON: Well, I haven`t studied the speaking industry`s history. But I do know in the book -- one of my favorite letters in the book is Elizabeth Cady Stanton writing to her daughter. And she`s on the road, giving speeches. She gives two a day. And it`s a terrific description of what her life on the road was like.
And it`s not that different, I don`t think, than life on the road for speakers now. The hard part is the travel. It`s the getting there. And it`s the receptions and the dinners around the -- that surround the speech. That`s the part that tires people out and drains them. And in the book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton`s letter describing her trip, although much more arduous, is the same feeling that she has.
LAMB: One of the things I noticed in reading your letters is how often a reference to religion or God or Jesus Christ or being a Christian in the letters. I counted over 30 of the letters that you`ve got in here. Did you notice that?
LAWSON: I did notice that. And it just seems to be -- it was not my intention -- I wasn`t looking for that, but it was a big part of the lives of people. And there are quite a few.
LAMB: Here`s another one. Alfred Mahan, No. 47.
LAMB: Who was he?
LAWSON: He was a naval historian, and he was the first person who really brought to the attention of the country that in order for us to be powerful, we really had to command the seas.
LAMB: This is the letter in 1890. He says he lectured his three children on everything from medical practices -- this page 47...
LAWSON: Oh, thank you
LAMB: ... to which authors were acceptable to read. William Shakespeare, Walter Scott were approved. Mark Twain was not. Do you have any idea why he didn`t want people to read Mark Twain?
LAWSON: I don`t.
LAMB: In this letter, he writes to his daughter, Helen, who is 17. And it says -- I jumped to the second paragraph -- "In the first place, my dear child, you must not allow yourself to be worried about this trait of your character which renders you indifferent to most persons, as though it were a fault or a sin for which you are originally responsible."
Do you have any idea what that`s all about?
LAWSON: Well, she was having trouble attaching to people. And he -- it was a sentiment that he had felt in himself, that he often felt detached from other people. And it`s a case of, "Do as I say, not as I do." He`s telling her she can do better than he has and that she really -- that indifference is something that she should shy away from as much as possible. She needs to feel and she needs to be attached. And sometimes people find -- they act like that detachment is a strength. And he`s telling her, No, it`s really a weakness, and you`ve got to work on it.
LAMB: He later says, "Like yourself, I`m naturally indifferent to others, and for many years, I thought it was almost something to be proud of."
Have you known anybody that`s totally indifferent to others?
LAWSON: Yes. I think I have known some people indifferent to others.
LAMB: How do you -- how does it manifest itself? How do you see it? They just don`t care about other people?
LAWSON: Well, you can just see that their -- their level of emotion, their reaction to events in their lives, whether they`re terrific or terrible, all sort of stay at about the same level, same pace.
LAMB: Another one that was somewhat nasty was Eugene O`Neill.
LAMB: Who was he?
LAWSON: He was a playwright. He won the Pulitzer Prize four times, the Nobel Prize.
LAMB: On page 58...
LAWSON: We have a number of letters from him in the book. And I think -- I think they`re terrific. I love to see the writers, particularly, writing off-stage, to see -- where they`re not doing something for publication, and to see how they write to their children.
LAMB: He wrote to his son, Eugene O`Neill, who was 19 at the time, and the letter was in 1930. And the question is whether or not Eugene O`Neill wants to bring his girlfriend to France, where he is with his third wife, Carlotta.
LAMB: Why did this letter get your attention?
LAWSON: Because I thought it was such an unusual piece of advice. You often have parents who want their child to bring them in on their love affairs. If this is serious, let me meet this person, let this person become a part of our lives. And here, Eugene O`Neill, who really has not -- did not have much success with marriage and love is telling his son, If you want this to work with this woman, forget it. Don`t bring her near us, or you`ll have trouble with your love or with your family or both.
And he also is concerned that if the son brings the girlfriend to visit, that he and the son might have some troubles, and he doesn`t want to risk that. They have -- it`s been a distant relationship, but it`s been working very well for some years, and it seems that Eugene O`Neill, the father, isn`t willing to risk that by having the girlfriend come visit.
LAMB: Go to the next page, on page 60, and that third line there. Read from where it says, "Keep your love affairs free."
LAWSON: OK. "Keep your love affairs free from all relatives and their homes if you want to avoid complications with your love or with your relatives or both. Why run the risk with your love of forcing it into human interrelationships where you never can foretell what the answer may be? For example, how do you know Betty would like me or Carlotta, or that we would like her? You may say you know, but that is only because you feel affection for all concerned. And if one dislike crept into this combination, then all the slumbering prejudices would awake and the complications would start and spread."
LAMB: Later on, he writes, "Family contact I rate as risk A One. Please understand me right. I respect your love for Betty, and she sounds like a brick to me, and I would sure like to meet her if I come to New York. Also understand that Carlotta has nothing to do with what I am writing and doesn`t even know I`m writing this."
I noticed it on several occasions, these writers would say things like that, the other person in their lives knew nothing about what they were saying, their mother didn`t or whatever it was.
LAWSON: Right. And I think that they`re just showing the confidentiality of the letter and this is really coming from them. They`re not writing on behalf of somebody else`s wishes.
This letter is interesting, too, because Eugene O`Neill -- his first wife, this boy`s mother -- he felt -- and it really was true -- that the two of them were together and they were torn apart by their two families. They may or may not have lasted, but he had experienced that firsthand with the boy`s mother.
LAMB: So what was your practice when you were growing up with your boyfriends and family? Did you keep them included in...
LAWSON: Oh, I kept them away until I got a really good one. I really -- I did keep them away. And my brothers would -- were older and very, very protective, and would answer the phone, and if ever it was a boy, they would say, Are you an upstanding young man? And no one would want to come around my house. I kept them away.
LAMB: Where did you meet your husband?
LAWSON: I met my husband on a blind date in Wyoming.
LAMB: How many years ago?
LAMB: So when did you introduce him to the family?
LAWSON: Well, that was a kind of an old-fashioned and unusual thing. I was on a blind date, and my parents happened to be there, too. We all met at the same time. So I didn`t have to go through it, and I could see they liked him. And I liked him, and it worked out.
LAMB: Is he a writer? Does he write letters?
LAWSON: He`s not. He`s a painter.
LAMB: So do you write letters?
LAWSON: I don`t.
LAMB: You don`t at all?
LAWSON: I don`t. I`m a product of...
LAMB: You never did, or...
LAWSON: I`m a product of this time. I write some letters, but I`m not -- I think we all write letters, but some people are letter writers. I`m not a letter writer.
LAMB: You made a decision not to include letters written through e-mail.
LAWSON: I did. Because I think that it`s different. It`s -- we all kind of sit and type e-mails. I don`t think it`s as thoughtful as letter writing. And I just think they`re two different mediums, two different things. I really wanted this to be a book of letters.
LAMB: Charles W. Eliot to Charles Eliot, Jr., page 76. He was Harvard president for 40 years, from 1869 to 1909. There`s just one little thing in there I want to ask you about. His son -- he`s writing this letter to his son, who`s 26 years old. And this is something else I noticed that came out in some of these letters, the ego. He writes, "I wish you were tough and strong, like me."
LAWSON: Yes. He does. But I think -- at first -- when I first read that letter, that was what jumped out at me. And at the beginning of each letter, I pull -- at the beginning of each entry in the book, I pull a quote that I feel is the most important piece in that letter, that I want to highlight. And at first, the line that you mention about tough and strong like me, was the line that I pulled because that`s what jumped out at me. And I thought, Wow, this is something.
But then as I got to know the letter more, I realized that he does wish that the son is tough and strong like him, yet he`s so tolerant of the way that the son is. They`re different people, and he respects that the son is different. And he suggests that the -- that his son -- he says, "I can work all the time, but you`ll probably only be able to work five hours a day, just because of the way you`re made up. But you might have a much better life than I do." And then he says, "If you feel the blues coming on, get a book and a glass of wine."
And I thought that it was really a very understanding and encouraging letter, after all, when, at first, it jumped out at me as an egotistical slam.
LAMB: Your father writes the introduction, the foreword to this book.
LAMB: And he mentions, and I think you mention -- you can tell me in a second if you did -- yes, you did, too -- Sherwood Anderson.
LAMB: Who was Sherwood Anderson, and why did you both mention his letter in -- or letters in the introduction?
LAWSON: Sherwood Anderson was a writer, and his most well-known book that we all know is "Winesburg, Ohio." And I mention -- Dad mentions him in his foreword because he particularly liked what he said about painting and about work. Sherwood Anderson writes to his son, who`s studying painting, and gives him -- and Sherwood Anderson also painted, too, so he knew about painting. But he`s giving his son ideas about the way that one should paint and that it should really come from your heart. You shouldn`t be doing it to -- you shouldn`t be painting for the end result. And you should -- he says, "Be humble. Smartness kills everything."
He`s telling his son how to paint, but really, it`s about how to live. That`s the letter that Dad chooses. The line that I pulled out, that I think is something -- that -- really, what the whole book is about, is Sherwood Anderson has a line in his letter, and it`s in the middle of a lot of things. It`s just one little phrase, but it jumped off the page at me. He says, "My heart is set on you." And I think that that`s the essence of what this is. No matter what your relationship is with your parents or with your child, if you`re a good mother or father or a wonderful -- or a terrible mother or father, or a child that`s troubled or a successful child, your heart is set on that person in a way that it isn`t on anybody else. And when he says, "My heart is set on you," I think that that`s -- that`s what it is.
LAMB: Sherwood Anderson also wrote in one of the letters -- "I am constantly amazed at how little painters know about painting, writers about writing, merchants about business, manufacturers about manufacturing. Most men just drift.
There is a kind of shrewdness many men have that enables them to get money. It is the shrewdness of the fox after the chicken. A low order of mentality often goes with it." What is he getting at?
LAWSON: Well, he`s getting that if you are a business person just aiming at getting money, it doesn`t mean much. You`re not going to have the fulfillment that you will if you love your work and are working from the heart.
LAMB: Now, you said that you were going to be a doctor at one point.
LAMB: Did you really want to be a doctor or was it easy to abandon that to do what you`re doing?
LAWSON: I did want to be a doctor, but I didn`t have -- and I wanted to be a doctor enough to get to that point that I was headed that way and going to be in medical school. But I wasn`t -- I didn`t feel it in my gut that that`s the only thing I wanted to do, that I knew that that`s what I wanted to do. And I had a lot of things I wanted to do, and I felt that it might not be the right thing for me to do, but it seemed -- it seemed pretty safe in a way -- an easier thing for me to do, because there was a track. I knew how to do it. And I think at that age, at 20, 21, that track looked pretty appealing instead of just, what am I going to do.
LAMB: Do you think you still might do it some day?
LAWSON: Maybe. I`m still very interested in it. I may. I doubt it. But I have illusions that I may.
LAMB: What is the toughest thing about being an agent for speakers?
LAWSON: Oh, the toughest thing is -- there really isn`t that much that`s tough because I love the people that I work with. So there`s very little that`s tough. The toughest thing, probably, is middle of the winter, a snowstorm comes, somebody is supposed to be on a flight, may or may not make it, and you get the phone call at five in the morning, how are we going to rearrange all this? But that`s not very tough.
LAMB: What is the worst thing that happens on the other end when you -- your authors arrive, what is the worst thing that happens for the -- at the venue, people that have hired these folks to come in?
LAWSON: Probably one of the -- the hard things that happens, which is just a matter of logistics, is if ever somebody is not in the place they say they are going to be and someone arrives and there is time lost, because usually it`s quite orchestrated and tight. So that logistical kinds of things, because these people who are going to speak, they`re professional, they know what they`re doing, but they get butterflies and nerves, and all of the in and outs of cars and when is my flight, all of that needs to be seamless so that they can concentrate on what they need to do.
LAMB: You are focusing here on the written word, and of the eight speakers that you have that go out, how many of them speak from a written text?
LAWSON: Some of them have a written text, but they have it as I think something just to have, but they really go up, most of them just speak.
LAMB: And how do you decide -- you`ve got eight -- how do you decide what kind of speakers you`re going to represent? I assume you won`t represent anybody that knocks on your door.
LAWSON: No, I won`t. They have to be a terrific speaker. and I have to respect their work very, very much. And that -- that`s really, that`s it.
LAMB: Page 119, Woody Guthrie to Arlo Guthrie.
LAWSON: I`m glad you`re going to ...
LAMB: And by the way, I want to ask you any time in this process, there are letters that you absolutely love, that you want to ...
LAMB: ... get into, we`ll just do that.
Woody Guthrie who wrote "This Land is Your Land," in your deck you say, "stricken within a horrific disease in the nervous system, Woody Guthrie on a visit home from the hospital once took his young son Arlo out into the backyard alone." And what was he doing then?
LAWSON: He took him into the backyard, and he wanted to be sure -- "This Land is Your Land" had become popular, but he wanted to be sure that his son knew what the original intent of the song was and knew the full verses, because he realized that his time of being coherent was limited, and he wanted -- the lines that he wanted to be sure that Arlo Guthrie knew were, "One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple by the relief office I saw my people. As they stood there hungry, I stood there wondering if this land was made for you and me."
LAMB: The timing on all this was the date 1956. You say Woody Guthrie was 44 years old, Arlo Guthrie was 9, and he had Huntington`s disease?
LAWSON: Huntington`s chorea, which is a horrific disease of the nervous system, hereditary.
LAMB: You say he had lived in poverty, had troubles with alcohol, three times failed at marriage and suffered the death of his 4-year-old daughter Cathy. And he writes what to his son Arlo? It says, "Deary Arlo Davy."
LAWSON: He -- this is a letter that I wish that everyone could see. It`s written ...
LAMB: We`ll show it on the screen if you want to read it.
LAMB: Yeah, we`ll put it on the screen.
LAWSON: It`s a -- I will read it. It`s a difficult letter to read because there`s no punctuation and it`s almost -- as I read it, I see it almost as a -- like a song. I mean, it`s a strange letter. But he is telling his son that -- not to complain, because human frailty is our condition. And don`t complain about any troubles you have. Everybody -- everybody has problems.
"Deary Arlo Davy.
Of course now concerning you and that weakerly nearly blinded eye of yours all that I or all that anybody could tell you is for you just to pray your very head off for god your heavenly father your maker and your creator to heal you to heal you the same as I do pray every minute here for god to heal me of all my bad wrongs I`ve done in my lifetime for god to heal me of all my sicknesses I have here just as bad as you have there god hits us all god makes us all every living man and woman among us all just every bit as baddy sick as you are, with your weakedy blinded eye you`re not the only one god has knocked down sick with your weaky eye all of us when you come right down to it all of us are just every bit as weakened here in some way or the other maybe lots lots blindeyer sicker weaklyer than you no living person is ever perfect we are as weakledy sickedy as you are so don`t feel like you`re the only sicky one here on god`s earth Don`t whine to god Don`t even complain one little bitsy word back to god Be silent Be quiet Be thankyful Be faithyful Be grateful Be gaylyful Be joydyful."
LAMB: Is that his way of writing or speaking? Or -- I mean...
LAWSON: It`s the way that most of his letters are like this. And I -- apparently, and it seems as his disease got worse, they became more like this. And you do see the handwriting that`s jerky and jagged. But it`s also the way that he was. I mean, it`s more of a -- of a -- it became almost a caricature as this became more and more with this faithyful, gratyful, joydyful.
LAMB: Did you ever in your letters -- did you ever find letters back to the father or mother in these situations?
LAMB: And you didn`t -- but you didn`t include those?
LAWSON: I didn`t. No.
LAMB: Why not?
LAWSON: Because I`d had -- the problem was, there was so much material, so it was really a question always of limiting what the book was going to be. There was so, so much. So if I got into that, it would be a different book. So I just -- I had certain rules from the beginning, and I stuck to them.
LAMB: What were some of the other rules? I went through and counted some 104 chapters, but also counted -- in a number of cases you had multiple letters, N.C. Wyeth you had four, John Adams -- three, and the Adams` played a big role, John Quincy had one, Abigail had two. Any impact from your father`s John Adams book, because ...
LAWSON: Oh, sure, but also much even more so, their letters are just amazing. And I wanted -- some of my goals in the book were that I wanted to see what these parents told their children, how they told them, and also what the letters told -- tell us about the times in which they lived. So the Adams` letters cover a lot of those sides. But the rules that you asked about, the rules that I had, they`re really very simple. I had two rules. The person who had written the letter had to make a substantial and worthwhile contribution to our country. And then the letter itself had to reveal something of value.
LAMB: You said that Theodore Roosevelt wrote 150,000 letters?
LAMB: Are they all cataloged somewhere, or are they?
LAWSON: They are -- the Theodore Roosevelt Association has many of them, the Library of Congress has many of them. They have been edited, so, they are -- I mean, they`re accessible. That`s amazing. And his letters to his children are just -- the letters while he`s in the White House and his children are young are just incredible, to see this man who is the president of the United States writing very funny letters to little children. And then as his children get older, they become much more serious.
And there`s a letter in the book to his son Quentin, where he says -- Quentin is in the First World War, and his father, Theodore Roosevelt, feels that he`s not writing enough letters to his girlfriend. So he sends Quentin a letter, in which he says, write all the time, write if you`re smashed up in the hospital, write when your work is most disheartening and irksome, write all the time, write enough to allow half being lost. And I just -- I think that that`s just terrific. They all wrote, and it was part of -- part of life. It was a way of life, and a way of working your thoughts out on paper.
LAMB: You -- either you or your father quotes you as saying when you got into this project, think how much I`m going to learn. And what did you learn besides what people said about -- to their kids, what else did you learn? You learned ...
LAWSON: Well, I found that many of these great Americans were names that I knew, and people that I knew I should know much more about than I did. And what surprised me was how through the letters to the children, some aspects of their personality or the time in which they lived or their experience became immediately accessible. Something about the unedited words, their candor made them so accessible.
I think something else that I learned was the importance of work and loving your work and doing your work for the right reasons. Again and again, they say that to their children. Your work is who you are. Your work is part of you. Don`t work for the end result. It`s the process. And you see that coming from writers and artists and soldiers; and all across the board that theme comes up again and again.
LAMB: Where did you learn your work ethic?
LAWSON: From my parents, I guess.
LAMB: What would you consider that to be? What kind of a -- you work all the time?
LAWSON: I do.
LAMB: How do you raise three kids and do all that you do?
LAWSON: I don`t -- there are a lot of things I don`t do. I really do three things, I have my family, my business and while I was working on the book, I worked on the book. And I don`t do much else. We ate a lot of spaghetti and butter, and I didn`t go to too many parties.
LAMB: How much time a day would you spend on the book -- excuse me, and how much time on your job?
LAWSON: Well, I`d spend -- it depended on -- during the course of the work that changed a little bit, but for the first two years I would work in my office a full week. And then I`d work on the book after the children went to bed, for two and a half to three hours and then I`d work on the book on Saturdays. And then, for the last year, I was able to take a couple of hours a day during the regular office time and also work on the book. And -- but I kept up with the evenings and weekends, too.
LAMB: Is there another book automatically because of all the ones you couldn`t get into this one?
LAWSON: Not for me. There`s another book for someone else. I started out -- because another person would pick, I think, very different letters. There`s so many and so many wonderful letters that a different person would find a different point in seeing different letters. But I started out thinking that I would have a pile of letters that were the first cut and a pile of letters that were the second cut, and then at the end I`d probably go back to the second cut and include those -- some of those in the book, but none of them, I didn`t need to. There were plenty all from the first cut.
LAMB: You have different sections of the book and one of them is called "Strength of Character," and you lead it off with a letter from Jonathan Edwards, 1749, to Mary Edwards, who was 15 at the time. Who was Jonathan Edwards?
LAWSON: Jonathan Edwards was a theologian and one of our prominent thinkers in New England, and he`s writing to his daughter, who is far away from home. And this is -- this letter I chose for the book more to give a sense of time and time and place. And he`s telling his daughter that her faith is the most important thing that there is.
LAMB: I actually underline, "And if the next news we hear of you should", which I found -- I found this part unusual, but he says ...
LAWSON: I did.
LAMB: "And if the next news we hear of you should be of your death (though that would be very melancholy), yet if withal we should hear of that which should give great grounds to hope that you had died in the Lord, how much more comfortable would this be (though we should have no opportunity to see you, or take our leave of you in your sickness), than if we should be with you all in your sickness, and have much opportunity to tend to you, and converse and pray with you, and take an affectionate leave of you, and after all have reason to apprehend that you died without God`s grace and favor! `Tis comfortable to have the presence of earthly friends, especially in sickness and on a deathbed; but the great thing is to have God our friend, and to be united to Christ, who can never die anymore, and whom even death can`t separate us from."
LAWSON: Well, he`s part of the great awakening and his belief and his faith is the most important thing to him, and his daughter is far away from him and he wants to be sure she doesn`t forget her religious grounding while she`s gone.
LAMB: John O`Hara ...
LAMB: ... to Wylie O`Hara, the year 1959. Daughter was 14, and she`s in her first year at Saint Timothy school -- or he is in the first year at Saint Timothy School.
LAWSON: She is.
LAMB: She. I`m sorry.
LAMB: In Maryland. The point of that letter?
LAWSON: The point of that letter is to tell Wylie O`Hara that her childhood has ended, she`s now going forward as an adult. She`s reached the time of her life that she`s been looking forward to all along growing up, and that she has to do things -- he tells her life is tough and you need a little bit of toughening. And in order to become tougher, you have to do it yourself. You have to do things you don`t want to do. You have to make yourself be with other people. Both he and she are shy people. So he tells her that he is making himself go out and be with other people, and she needs to do the same, because the only real discipline is self-discipline.
LAMB: Did you find yourself ever changing your mind about something because of a letter that you`d read? About how to raise your kids or things that you -- philosophy that you might ...
LAWSON: I have. I found -- with my kids, I guess that I would be -- I hope to be very clear with them. There`s so many letters here where parents set forth exactly what their expectations are, and they let them know clearly what they want. I think that that`s something that I will do differently.
There are many -- many times where the parent will say, take yourself in hand, rule yourself with an iron fist. Or John O`Hara, make yourself do things you don`t want to do. And I do live in the woods in Maine, and one thing that I didn`t really want to do was -- come -- for me, to come out with this book when it came out. So, when the time came for me that go on the road and do some of the promoting of the book and talking about the book, I went back to some of those letters and read them and it said, do things you don`t want to do, do the right thing. Make yourself ...
LAMB: Why didn`t you want to do it this time?
LAWSON: I just didn`t. I`m not really a public person. I never have been. It wasn`t -- a lot of times I think people are so excited for the book to come out that they can go out and talk about it. And I was thrilled that the book was out, but I wasn`t on the promoting side of it.
LAMB: Did you have to, as a part of your deal with Doubleday, did you have to do so many book appearances?
LAWSON: I don`t know. I had to do some. I didn`t get to that point. I just took myself in hand and said, OK, you`re going to do it.
LAMB: And so, how much have you done?
LAWSON: I`ve done a few weeks. Probably three weeks or so, different places. Not a lot. And I`ve enjoyed it. That was -- I thought that I would once I made myself do it, that I would probably enjoy talking about the book, and I do.
LAMB: What is it like, or what maybe -- what`s the downside of working so close with your own father as his agent, speaking agent?
LAWSON: Oh, a downside -- I suppose the only downside is that sometimes when I`m working with other groups if they find out that I`m his daughter, they don`t realize that I have a bigger business and that they think that I`m just working with him. That`s really the only downside. As a daughter working with a father, it`s terrific. I love it. And I can tell him much more than I can my other clients, OK, this is what you need to do, or make decisions, this is what time he`ll leave, this is -- he`ll do this or he won`t. And that saves a lot of time.
LAMB: What does he not like to do when he`s on tour?
LAWSON: He likes to do everything. That`s the problem. He likes to do -- he really -- he`ll do -- he loves to do everything, and then he gets tired out from it, or it takes too long and he`s frustrated afterwards. But when he`s out, he likes to do everything. So it`s really limiting -- trying to limit what he`ll do before he gets there.
LAMB: Now that you`ve had this experience, would you be interested at all in writing more?
LAMB: A different kind of a book?
LAWSON: I would. And I really -- I was not interested -- people asked me often if I always wanted to be a writer, because my father was a writer and I work with writers, and no, I hadn`t. I didn`t want to be a writer. It always seemed so hard to me. And dad would talk about how he would pay to do what he does. And I would think, oh, that can`t really be true. But I now see why. I mean -- I would do -- I hope to do another book, and it was really one of the most enjoyable things I`ve done.
LAMB: So what`s the next -- what would you do?
LAWSON: I don`t know. I`m fishing around for ideas at the moment, and I have a few, but I`m not ready to say yet.
LAMB: Did David McCullough pick up the phone at any time in this process, and say, Dorie, you have got to include this letter?
LAWSON: No. Never. He helped me with -- when I was compiling the initial list, he helped me -- often we`d talk on the phone and I keep saying, OK, try to give me more and more, people I wouldn`t think of. And I spoke with a number of people that way. And he helped me with the list of names. But other than that, he really wasn`t involved much. He gave me confidence in one telephone conversation -- he gave me confidence to know that if I didn`t think a letter was terrific, don`t include it. Don`t include someone because you think they should be included. But if the letter isn`t up to standards, your standards, don`t do it. And that was really probably one of the best pieces of advice that gave me the confidence to just keep going with my instinct.
LAMB: If I count it right, George Herbert Walker Bush`s letter is the longest in the book.
LAWSON: It probably is.
LAMB: He had it in his own book of letters.
LAWSON: He did.
LAMB: What drew you to this one? And it was when he was 74 years old.
LAWSON: It`s a letter about aging, and what drew me to the letter was how candid he is. I think it`s a person I had not seen before in George Bush. It`s very long, and that was one of the -- one of my decisions too is, that I wouldn`t cut any of the letters. I wanted people to see exactly how they were written and intended, and sometimes the parents will repeat themselves or they`ll -- they`ll hammer on a point too many times or they`ll go on too long. And I think the George Bush letter -- he goes on, and on, and on. I don`t think that he went back and edited much of that at all. And I like that. I think you see him. You see who he is.
LAMB: It`s on page 273. I`ll start it off and you can pick up a paragraph or two if you want. "This letter is about aging," he says. And he was 74 at the time, in 1998. He just turned 80. "Not about the President`s Conference on Aging and how we should play lawn bowling, get discounts at the movies, turn into skin-conscious sunblockers, take Metamucil and grow old gracefully. No. It`s about me, about what happened between last year and this, between being 73 and 74. It`s interesting -- well, fairly interesting to you maybe, therapeutic to me for I know I am getting older now."
What would you like to include in this letter?
LAWSON: All right. I mean -- just see here. "What happens this year unlike last is I just tune out more: because I do not want to know when they are thinking of going to the movies and I don`t want to sign off on having to take them all the way to Portland. So, on purpose, I either look confused or simply proceed on my way pretending to have heard nary a sound. It works."
Then he goes on and he says, "Last year there was only a tiny sense of time left -- of sand running through the glass. This year, I must confess, I am more aware of that. No fear, no apprehension, just a feeling like `let`s go -- there is so much to do and there might not be a lot of time left.` Your kids keep me young even if I don`t bend as easily or run as fast or hear as well."
That -- I love that too -- that he`s acknowledging that he`s aging, he`s acknowledging that he can`t do things as well as he could. But he`s so optimistic and eager to keep living and keep going, and not in a phony way.
LAMB: He says, "If I shed tears easier now, try not to laugh at me, because I`ll lose more saline and that makes me feel like a sissy, and it might make my mouth dry later on, and might be bad for digestion, too. And besides, it`s OK to cry if you are a man -- a happy man (me) or a man faced with sadness or hurt (not me.)"
LAWSON: He`s a -- he`s having fun writing this letter, too. He`s really enjoying himself. And that is something that there are many letters in the book where you can see the fun side of people, and that they`re having a ball writing a letter.
LAMB: Now, Benjamin Rush who we just did on this program a biography of him, he has an unusual letter where he lays out all kinds of advice to John Rush, I believe it`s his son that was -- went insane?
LAWSON: Yes, it is.
LAMB: And he wrote this in 1796. Who was he, and ...
LAWSON: He was a doctor in Philadelphia and he is a signer of the Declaration of Independence and served in the Revolutionary War. His son was studying to be a doctor, and it was during that time of his life that this letter was written.
The son later becomes insane after he is in a duel with a friend and he kills the friend, and he`s institutionalized.
But this letter is written before there were any signs of the trouble ahead. And I like this letter because they -- it`s from the two parents, from Benjamin and Julia Rush to his son before he goes off on his apprenticeship in India. And I like how they just lay it out -- here is what you need to be worried about, here`s what you need to do. And I love the line -- "Be sober and vigilant. Remember at all times that while you are seeing the world, the world will see you. Whenever you are tempted to do an improper thing, fancy that you see your father and mother kneeling before you and imploring you with tears in their eyes to refrain from yielding to the temptation." What a scene to imagine! This young kid ...
LAMB: Now, you`ve got your father writing the foreword on here. I noticed another father-son connection, that Luke Janklow is your agent and Luke Janklow is son to who?
LAWSON: To Mort Janklow, who is my father`s agent. And when I had the idea for the book, I asked dad -- and decided that I was going to do it -- I asked dad what I -- what should I do next? He said, well, I should take you in to meet Mort and talk to my agent about your idea.
So we went to New York and went in to see Mort, and there was talk that Mort`s son might be in on the meeting, too. And I`m sure he had the same feeling, but I had a little bit of, oh, brother, the son and the daughter, and this is too much, and expecting, no, I`m not going to like this guy.
And he came in and immediately we just hit it off. And he`s terrific, and I`m thrilled he`s my agent, and it was one of those wonderful moments of the two fathers and the two -- the daughter and son all together.
LAMB: What`s the difference in the age of you two, Luke Janklow and you?
LAWSON: We`re about the same age. And I think our fathers are about the same age.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book. It`s called "Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children." Dorie McCullough Lawson, out guest. Thank you very much.
LAWSON: Thank you.
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