1961 -- The Waters of Kronos

The most recent biography of Conrad Richter, David R. Johnson’s Conrad Richter: A Writer’s Life (2001), begins with an introductory chapter attempting to describe Richter’s “dread of public events that bordered on a phobia.” The chapter opens with Richter’s agony over the National Book Award ceremony, this a forced publicity march under the command of publisher Alfred Knopf. Richter had agreed to attend the pre-ceremony news conference, but after one look at the raised platform and microphone he plunked down in the first row of audience chairs, willing to field questions but unwilling to move on-stage. At the award presentations that evening, Richter again remained in the audience when his name was called, Knopf taking the podium to deliver the author’s acceptance speech:

I’m not speaking in person today because my ancestors prevented me. My father was a preacher. My grandfather was a preacher. My uncle and great uncle were preachers. They spoke in public constantly and used up all the talent in the blood stream so that when I came along, unfortunately there wasn’t any left. But I’m grateful that they didn’t all write, or I’d be left in a worse way….

Johnson’s introductory chapter ends by noting that throughout his last years Richter kept a Depression-era photograph of himself in the old corduroy jacket he always wore. Beneath his scowl and awkward stance was Richter’s hand-written, “Smile, **bleep** you, smile.”

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