Posts Tagged ‘Arthur Miller’

The Hopwood Awards: still giving hope (and bucks) to young writers after 84 years

Saturday, October 3rd, 2015
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Presiding deity of the Hopwood Room, Andrea Beauchamp (Photo: Humble Moi)

In my day, the University of Michigan’s Avery Hopwood Award was considered a major prize for young writers. It is even more so today – what with students winning multiple awards (two awards was once uncommon), and with supplemental bonuses that resulted in one lucky student bagging $33,000 earlier this year. Those kinds of sums defray an awful lot of tuition costs. It also pays for a lot of tea and cookies, which the Hopwood Room still dispenses regularly during the fall and winter quarters on Thursdays.

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Living it up: Hopwood with Spanish dancer Rose Rolanda, 1924.

I used to feel a little glow of pride when I entered the Hopwood Room. It was my room, after all! But would it still be in the same place decades later? I was happy that I recognized Angell Hall immediately (one of the few buildings I recognized), walked up the front stairs to the door, and up stairs inside, and instinctively turned to the right. There it was, a few steps away a on the left side of the hall. And it looked … exactly the same. “Welcome to the time warp,” announced Andrea Beauchamp, assistant director and ongoing presence of the Hopwood program.

She said the room has been deliberately kept that way. She fought off attempts to replace the worn carpet “with Oreos crushed into it” with a drab new carpet that had a “standard dentist’s office” look about it. She wanted to keep the charm, books, and dark-wood ambiance, and she succeeded. Even the big round table covered with every literary journal imaginable still dominated the room – including some journals I have contributed to over the years since I left town, the Virginia Quarterly Review, the Kenyon Review, the Georgia Review among them.

Arthur Miller and I won two Hopwoods, award-winning Anglo-American poet Anne Stevenson (I’ve written about her here and here) won an astonishing three. According to the website:

The program was endowed by Avery Hopwood, a popular American dramatist and member of the Michigan Class of 1905. Mr. Hopwood bequeathed one-fifth of his considerable estate to the University of Michigan with the stipulation that it be used to encourage creative writing among students. During the years that have passed since the first Hopwood Awards were made in 1931, we have been able to award a cumulative total of well over $3,000,000 to more than 3,200 gifted writers. Former winners include Arthur Miller, John Ciardi, Mary Gaitskill, Robert Hayden, Lawrence Kasdan, Jane Kenyon, Frank O’Hara, Marge Piercy, Edmund White, and Nancy Willard. …

For former director Nicholas Delbanco’s remarks on the history of the program and the legacy of Avery Hopwood, written for the New York Times in 1998, see this PDF.

I had stayed in touch with Andrea over the years, feeding tidbits to the Hopwood newsletter. I had kept up with her for so long that I rather expected her to be a wizened old lady of a zillion years rather than the smart and vibrant woman in the photo above. I had apparently conflated her with her predecessor, “Sister Hilda,” a nun who had a PhD in English and arrived from an obscure and dwindling order to manage the program. Had I read the Hopwood newsletter more faithfully, I would have known that the beloved sister died in 2004, at 92, and served enthusiastically and tenaciously from 1971-1981. I would also have known she did her dissertation on that much-married diehard Puritan John Milton. She must have had quite a kick to her, which I hadn’t suspected as a student.

But the Hopwood program has kept up with Stanford, too. Andrea warmly recalled recent visits from our newest National Medal of the Arts winner Tobias Wolff and Irish poet Eavan Boland. Well, you can read excerpts from Eavan’s inspiring talk at the Hopwood Awards ceremony last spring here.

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Caffeine, camaraderie, catharsis, and 125 years of editorial freedom

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015
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daily

On the threshold of the future, 1970s.

Last weekend was my first trip back to Ann Arbor since I took home a diploma several decades ago. It also marked my first trip back to the Michigan Daily offices at 420 Maynard.

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One of us.

The distinctive Student Publication Building has the same smell it did all those years ago, minus the rubber cement. We edited the old-fashioned way: the rip-and-glue method on pages of low-cost newsprint. The dumb waiter had vanished, too, except in the memories of those who remember the linotype days. As the 1.40 a.m. daily deadline neared, the dumb waiter saved steps as we sent copy to the typesetters on the floor below in the basement. Periodically, we would scamper downstairs to watch the progress of the night’s paper: seasoned professionals (the legendary Lucius Doyle and Merlyn Lavey foremost among them) tapped away on the big clackety linotype machines, as lead pigs were melted into pools of silver to make the slugs that were assembled on turtles, and eventually locked into place for printing. Pigs, slugs, turtles… lots of nature words for a place that was as far from the outdoor world as could be imagined – especially the underground kingdom on the floor below us. It was one of the last of the hot-type newspapers, and it was a privilege to work on it.

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One of us, too. (Photo: Brian Corr)

Three Dailyites from our set went on to get Pulitzers (so far), including the Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson. The Daily was considered “the New York Times of student newspapers” – though I was never sure of the provenance of that tag. Certainly its independence made it unique among the nation’s university newspapers. That tradition continues: It has no supervision from the faculty or the administration. It receives no funding from the university to run a full-circulation daily (five days a week now, six days a week back in my day). Decades ago, the student-run outfit even paid for its own building – the familiar 1930s-style brick landmark that offered nickel cokes in thick green glass bottles. (For old times’ sake, I bought a can of coke for fifty cents in the machine downstairs. Not the same.) Its revenues peaked at $1.4m in 2000 to about $500,000 last year. “The University of Michigan places a high value on the Michigan Daily’s editorial freedom,” one of the university’s attorneys wrote – the letter was projected on a screen at the gala dinner.

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We paid for it.

One of us, columnist Laura Berman, described the occasion this way in The Detroit News:

As newspapers shrink and, alas, sometimes die, the Michigan Daily, a 125-year-old student-run paper, is getting attention for sheer survival.

Without support or direct interference from its parent institution, the University of Michigan, the student daily has outlasted big and smaller city dailies, including the Ann Arbor News (now part of MLive.com). At a university lacking a journalism department, 20-year-old editors miraculously “train” their younger cohorts, winning national recognition year after year.

Today, the Daily opens its 83-year-old building’s doors to nearly 400 alumni from across the country, including Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, academics, doctors and lawyers. From Rebecca Blumenstein, the Wall Street Journal’s deputy editor-in-chief, to Tony Schwartz, the author and business consultant who wrote Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal to Sports Illustrated columnist Michael Rosenberg and Detroit Free Press editorial page editor Stephen Henderson, it’s a varied group of pilgrims.

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Sara Rimer of the New York Times celebrates her return.

Caffeine, ambition, camaraderie, and journalistic passion — but very little pay — have fueled the Daily for generations. …

At the gala dinner in the Michigan League, someone described the newsroom atmosphere as “stressful, exhausting, cathartic … addictive.” That about sums it up. We were a competitive and hard-working lot, and the newsroom atmosphere was intense.

After a whirlwind visit after so many years, it’s hard to describe all the emotions that were churned up in less than 72 hours. Let’s start with horror: the old-style morgue, with its scores of bound volumes, is being digitized. Thirty-nine of the 320 volumes are already electronically processed. I spent a short while in the morgue over the weekend, thumbing through the oversize volumes. Speaking for myself, you couldn’t bury some of my early stories deep enough. Time has not treated many of these pieces well, and I would not like to see them in my Collected. But the fact that I think that way at all probably owes something to the Daily.

According to the university’s LSA Today:

What do playwright Arthur Miller, two-time presidential candidate Thomas Dewey, and neurosurgeon/medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta have in common? They all wrote for the Michigan Daily, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this month. [Not to mention Tom Hayden. – ED.]

Covering campus, sports, local news, and culture, the Daily has been the object of both picketing and praise over its 125 years. And even as eminent newspapers have gone digital or crumbled, the Daily, which is financially independent of U-M, continues to thrive. In addition to its vigorous online presence, the Daily still publishes on paper. During the school year, it does so five days per week.

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Swag bag & shirt.

“When we check Twitter or even Yik Yak, a story from the Daily is often the center of conversation,” says Jennifer Calfas, LSA senior and the Michigan Daily’s editor in chief. “Sometimes you forget how amazing it is that this work impacts so many people, but then small moments remind you.”

After all, how many university rags ever got their own segment on Jon Stewart‘s Daily Show. (Don’t believe me? Watch it here.)

My stony little heart got so sentimental I finally broke down and bought my first university t-shirt to add to the Michigan Daily mug and “M” cookie (from the fabulous local deli Zingerman’s) in my swag bag. I couldn’t bring myself to get something as naff as “Go Blue!” So I settled for “Naprzód Niebiescy,” which a Polish scholar assured me was an even stronger phrase – something along the lines of “Advance forward, blue!”

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Bill Turque of the Washington Post and Lani Jordan, formerly of UPI, thumb through old volumes in the morgue.

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Pulitzer-prizewinning Ann Marie Lipinski of the Chicago Tribune and award-winning author Jim Tobin watching the last hot-type Daily come off the presses in the late 1970s. “That college newsroom was everything,” she said. (Photo: Steve Kagan)

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Humble Moi with photojournalist Pauline Lubens of the San Jose Mercury News, poet Marnie Heyn, and David Pap.

“Are most of your stars out?” Eavan Boland offers advice to young writers at Hopwood Awards.

Thursday, June 11th, 2015
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Eavan Boland, the Bella Mabury and Eloise Mabury Knapp Professor in Humanities

She oughta know. (Photo courtesy Eavan Boland)

I have an especial fondness for the Avery Hopwoods awards at the University of Michigan. During my days as a student in Ann Arbor, I was awarded two – just like playwright Arthur Miller. That might be the only thing we have in common. But the early encouragement meant a lot.

So I was especially pleased that Stanford’s Eavan Bolandone of Ireland’s leading poets, delivered this year’s address on April 22. Her subject: what advice can older writers give younger ones? She has her doubts about how far words can go, but I like Nicholas Del Banco‘s comment, which she cited: “the conflicted self is crucial.” He was commenting about novels – but I think the comment embraces all genres (so does she).

Her thoughts on the subject took her thoughts back to Dublin – “improbably a city where lighting had struck. In a figurative, artistic way that is.” She described this story between two Irish writers in a a smoking room in a Dublin café, in 1902:

The meeting took place on O’Connell Street which was then Sackville Street. It was a wide street in a garrison city which was still under British rule and would remain so for fourteen years. And all of this in a country, which was considered a backwater of Europe. Not a country that people – except for a few deep inside its secret societies – held out much hope for. The meeting was between two men, two writers, who had never met before. One was in his middle thirties and one a mere twenty years of age.

The two men were William Yeats and the very young James Joyce. And they were not equals. Yeats was already an iconic figure. He had founded the Irish theater. He had written admired poetry. Joyce had yet to write anything important. When I think of the hazards of this sort of advice I think of what happened next. Before any conversation could be started, James Joyce leaned across the table to William Yeats and said, “You are too old for me to help you.”

Then she told her own story, also in Dublin, decades later when she was a student at Trinity College, studying English literature in a place where poetry was treated as “a canonical fact.” She had no idea that Irish poetry had “been forced to shine out of a darkness with effort and pain.”

rua2And then at the age of 18 I picked up a book called The Hidden Ireland by a writer I had never heard of, Daniel Corkery. It had been published in 1925. The book follows the shattered narrative of the Cromwellian clearances in Ireland in the 18th century. It alights in their aftermath in a small part of Gaelic Munster, which is called Slieve Luachra, a mountainous area on the Cork Kerry border. Corkery writes about poets such as Aodhagán Ó Rathaille and Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin. He records that they spoke the Irish language and wrote their poetry in it. That they were witnesses to the destruction of that language and the breaking apart of the Bardic order. “What Pindar is to Greece, what Burns is to Scotland  … that and much more is Eoghan Ruadh to Ireland,” wrote Corkery.

That evening as I read on I could see what Robert Penn Warren meant when he said “the poem is not a thing we see—it is, rather, a light by which we may see.” I stopped on one page, and at one passage. Everything I was or hoped to be listened to what those words said.

Here is the passage the passage from Corkery that turned her on and, perhaps, changed her life: “Then we must also remember that these poets were simple men, living as peasants in rural surroundings; some of them, probably, never saw a city; not only this, but they were all poor men, very often sore-troubled where and how to find shelter, clothing, food, at the end of a day’s tramping. Their native culture is ancient, harking back to pre-Renaissance standards; but there is no inflow of books from outside to impregnate it with new thoughts. Their language is dying: around them is the drip, drip of callous decay: famine overtakes famine, or the people are cleared from the land to make room for bullocks. The rocks in hidden mountain clefts are the only altars left to them; and teaching is a felony.”

“Not to excuse, but to explain them, are these facts mentioned; for their poetry, though doubtless the poorest chapter in .the book of Irish literature, is in itself no poor thing that needs excuse: it is, contrariwise, a rich thing, a marvelous inheritance, bright with music, flushed with colour, deep with human feeling. To see it against the dark world that threw it up, is to be astonished, if not dazzled.”

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Merciless obsessions.

Eavan Boland continues: “I can remember where I was when I read this. Even now I ask myself – why was I so moved by an assertion nobody could prove; about poets from another world, most of them lost to time and history? I believe I was moved because it was the first time I had come across a bold statement about the importance of the artist ‘s life. It was the first time I had read that language and literature could testify in and through time; that such testimony could pierce the darkness of a history. It was the first time anyone had expressed the dignity of the life I hoped I would live.”

The rest led her to “a life lived in and through language, with all its challenge and reward. This won’t change and has never changed.” Let me close with some of more of the great advice from great writers she cited. This one, from the Prague-born German-language author Franz Kafka: “Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”

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“Were you busy writing your heart out?”

And this piece closer to home, from America’s J.D. Salinger: “Do you know what you will be asked when you die? Let me tell you first what you won’t be asked. You won’t be asked if you were working on a wonderful, moving piece of writing when you died. You won’t be asked if it was long or short, sad or funny, published or unpublished. You won’t be asked if you were in good or bad form while you were working on it. You won’t even be asked if it was the one piece of writing you would have been working on if you had known your time would be up when it was finished – I think only poor Soren K. will get asked that. I’m so sure you’ll only get asked two questions. Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out? If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to both questions.”

 

“I felt at home,” said Arthur Miller. Now his home will be ripped down.

Thursday, September 20th, 2012
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The young Hopwood winner

Pulitzer prizewinning playwright Arthur Miller was born and reared in New York City – but he loved Ann Arbor, where he attended university.  Go figure.

It would be swell if Ann Arbor returned the love, but it appears the city is about to tear down his digs at 439 South Division Street.  The street holds memories for me – I lived at 701 South Division.  For one academic year, I lived even closer to his ghost, around the corner on Thompson Street, somewhere in the 500 block.

So how did he wind up so far away from the endless pavements of Manhattan?  “Miller’s father, a practical-minded businessman, was amazed to hear of a faraway school called Michigan that would actually pay students money for writing.  His son told him about the prestigious Avery Hopwood Awards, built from a legacy given by  another MIchigan alumnus who had made a fortune on Broadway with such slight bedroom farces as Getting Gertie’s Garter and Up in Mabel’s Room … Miller’s father was impressed, but he reminded his son that he had to make some money first – before trying his hand at the Hopwoods.” Elnora Nelson writes in Arthur Miller’s America: Theater and Culture in a Time of Change: “He arrived in Ann Arbor after a circuitous bus ride and a hitchhike, he said, quite simply, ‘I felt at home.”

From Ryan Stanton at AnnArbor.com:

A house where famous playwright Arthur Miller once lived when he attended the University of Michigan could be demolished if no one steps forward to buy it and relocate it.

That’s what U-M officials indicated at a neighborhood meeting Thursday night as they gave an update on the $29 million expansion of U-M’s Institute for Social Research building.

The 3,210-square-foot wooden house at 439 S. Division St. stands next to the ISR building, a block south of downtown Ann Arbor, and was Miller’s first residence when he attended U-M in 1934.

“I just think it should be known, before it is demolished, what it is,” said Ann Arbor resident Marilyn Bigelow, a self-described informal historian who showed up to Thursday’s meeting to let U-M officials know she’ll be fighting to preserve the house, which dates back to the late 1800s.

420 Maynard, home of the 5-cent Cokes.

Of course the article includes photos:  The homely wooden buildings of an earlier era, the soulless dark-glass facade of the Institute for Social Research, which needs ever more space, ever more parking.  (The new $29 million expansion will have a “green roof,” of course.)  The relics of Ann Arbor’s most eminent writers – Arthur Miller during the 1930s, Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky in the immediate years after his exile, briefly Robert Frost and W.H. Auden – don’t stand a chance.  Not even a plaque to commemorate the building I must have walked past hundreds of times.

“Although most Miller studies trace the beginning of his literary career at Michigan to his undergraduate submissions to the Hopwood Awards Committee, he first made his mark in Ann Arbor as a writer for the Michigan Daily.”  It was then, and is still, at 420 Maynard Street, a few convenient blocks away from our homes on South Division (and Thompson).  I expect the 5-cent Cokes that formed the main of our diet in the 1970s were much the same as he had swallowed – and the hot-type presses were already pleasantly passé in my time.  In my era, Tom Hayden had cut a greater swath in the Daily‘s consciousness – I remember Hayden on a return visit to the offices, to talk to the editors about Indochina.  But Miller’s influence has proved the deeper and more lasting one.  And we both got two Hopwoods in the end.

In his autobiography Timebends, Miller reflects much on the radical legacy of Ann Arbor and the Daily.  But I liked this paragraph the best:

“In the thirties, one of Ann Arbor’s small-town charms for me was its reassuring contrast with dog-eat-dog New York, where a man could lie dying on Fifth Avenue in the middle of an afternoon and it would take a long time before anybody stopped to see what was the matter with him. A short ten or twenty years later people were looking back at the thirties nostalgically, as a time and caring and mutuality.”

 

Part Deux: Tomas Venclova on Arthur Miller, Timothy Snyder, and an imprisoned friend

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
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More on Tomas Venclova.  I can’t get enough.

Below, a few more clips from the celebration of World Poetry Day at the Web of Stories, continuing my post here.

I certainly didn’t know the playwright Arthur Miller had championed the Lithuanian poet and written a letter to the Communist authorities to protect him. Here’s the story:

I’ve written a lot about Timothy Snyder in these pages – but I didn’t know till now he is friends with Tomas (who is a great fan of Bloodlands). “A relationship with him is something you can be proud of,” he says of the acclaimed author.

A reading of his poem “Before the middle of July, Paris.” The poem is dedicated to the imprisoned Lithuanian dissident Viktoras Petkus. “Well, this is about how a person attempts to reach public opinion in the West, and doesn’t succeed.”

“The ultimate power is the power of the powerless”: Václav Havel’s legacy

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012
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"He assumed good and humanity in everyone."

My friend Jane Leftwich Curry organized an evening at Santa Clara University, where she is a professor of political science, to honor the playwright, dissident, and first president of the Czech Republic (and last president of Czechoslovakia), Václav Havel, who died in December.

The Wednesday event served as my introduction to Havel’s plays as well as to the university itself – despite its proximity, I had never seen SCU, which has the old Santa Clara Mission at its heart.

During the evening, a few of the university’s alumni performed staged readings from 1965’s The Memorandum and the much later 2007 Leaving.

The first was distinctly edgier – at least in the excerpted version.  A deputy manager introduces a new “official” made-up language in the office, “Ptydepe.”  Of course it’s all part of a bureaucratic coup d’état, and the managing director finds himself being edged out.  In the second, a chancellor is leaving office – but does he have to leave the state villa, which has been his extended family’s home for years?  The play was made into a movie in 2010, marking Havel’s debut as a director.

“We, here in Silicon Valley, do not live in an authoritarian society,” said Janey, who is author of six books on the politics of Central and Eastern Europe. “But we have much to learn from this man who had spent his years as a dissident and a writer and overnight took over as president not because he wanted power but because, as he said, ‘You cannot spend your whole life criticizing something and then, when you have a chance to do it better, refuse to go near it.'”

She gave a few examples of his ingenuity from his life as a dissident:

“He was creative not only in outsmarting the police when he could but also in living his life well in spite of all the pressures on him. There are thousands of stories of this … one that comes to mind here in this setting, is that, when he was in prison with the Archbishop of Prague, he organized chess tournaments – not, as the archbishop said at his state funeral, because Havel really liked chess, but because it provided a cover for Archbishop Duka to say mass under the ruse that the prisoners were just playing chess.

Author Curry

“Havel also laughingly told a s story of skiing up the high Tatra mountains – a struggle as he was both a heavy smoker and a non-athlete. He did it so he could meet at the top, on the border, with Polish dissidents like Jacek Kuron and Adam Michnik – neither of whom were any better skiers or athletes than he was and both of whom could match him as smokers. They came to share ideas and enjoy each other in the only place they could, a ski hut smack on the border of their two nations at the top of the Tatra mountains.”  It was a good gamble – “the Czech and Polish secret police were too lazy to ski up the mountains to catch dissidents.”

When he was sworn in as president to replace the man who had imprisoned him, some asked what he would say to departing president Gustáv Husák at the cocktail party that followed the ceremony.  “He thought about it and said he supposed they could talk about prison conditions as they had both served time in the same prison – Husak during World War II for being a communist, and he, under communism, for being a dissident. And so they did.”

The incident also illustrated a big theme in Havel’s life and leadership: inclusion, even extending to those who had harmed him.  “He assumed good and humanity in everyone, even though most Czechs and Slovaks kept silent rather than lose their peaceful lives.”

After the fall of communism, when questions arose about the controversial policies of  “lustration,” a government process to reintegrate former Communist into post-communist public life, “he reminded the nation that each and every one of them, himself included, had been part of making the communist system work. That the fault was shared by all and that each person had to account to himself for what he had done or not done. For Havel, then, the ultimate power was the power of the powerless.”

Steven Boyd Saum, editor of Santa Clara Magazine, also spoke – Saum is also attaché to the Honorary Consul General of the Czech Republic in San Francisco/Silicon Valley.

Saum hailed Havel as a man of “compassion and conscience.” He was “a bourgeois child” who, when denied a higher education under communism, became a lab assistant, a soldier, and a stagehand.  “Havel, the man, was a hero.” Arthur Miller called him “the first surrealist president.”

Saum compared him to Thomas Jefferson, in his understanding that loyalties work best when they are to neighbors and communities, rather than monolithic states.

Nice venue

Change occurred so fast in Czechoslovokia that dissidents like Havel quickly found themselves catapulted to power. The skills of a dissident didn’t always translate into the skills of a politician.  Havel believed firmly that when you change the system, people will change. He had respect even for the people who had betrayed him and his colleagues, or who had been silent during their persecution – “he stuck up for them.”

His first biographer Eda Kriseova wrote rather a hagiography. “The world needs heroes,” she said. “I am giving you one.”

(Another biographer, John Keane, author of Václav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts, answers questions here.)