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Walker’s Friend Shelby’s Birthday

From The Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of author Shelby Foote (1916) (books by this author). He was born in Greenville, Mississippi, joined the Army in 1940, and became battery captain of field artillery in Europe during World War II; he was discharged in 1944 when he was caught sneaking off to visit a girlfriend in Ireland. After the war, he got a job as a reporter with the Delta Democrat Times, but spent too much office time writing fiction, according to the publisher. It paid off for Foote, however, because he sold his first story to The Saturday Evening Post in 1946, and his first novel, Tournament (1949) not long after that.

In the early 1950s, Bennett Cerf of Random House sent him a letter asking him to produce a short account of the Civil War in time for the war’s centennial. Cerf wanted about 200,000 words; it wound up being almost eight times longer. The Civil War: A Narrative took 20 years to write and ended up spanning almost 3,000 pages in three volumes. It was published from 1958 to 1974; he wrote 500 to 600 words a day, longhand, using an old-fashioned dip pen. It took him four times longer to write about the war than it did to fight it, but whenever people pointed that out to him, he retorted, “There were a good many more of them than there was of me.” Based on a recommendation by Robert Penn Warren, filmmaker Ken Burns approached Foote in 1985 and asked him to serve as consultant on an 11-hour Civil War documentary Burns was making for PBS. Foote agreed, and he became a national celebrity after the show aired in 1990; at one point he was receiving 20 calls a day from people who just wanted to have dinner with him.

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