Writing and typing

Entertaining Deborah Solomon brief interview with biographer Stacy Schiff in the October 17 New York Times Magazine, ending with three snappy answers:

Why do you think you became a biographer?
Some people will do anything to get out of writing about themselves.

What hidden details should we know about you?
I have three children, each of whom is having an idyllic childhood, probably because I have been at the office the entire time.

Did your children celebrate when you won the Pulitzer Prize in biography, in 2000?
Yes, they understood I had won a big award for typing.

Oh my, well, what the kids saw was her typing away.

Story on my daughter at age 3. She was holed up in my University of Illinois office one day, doggedly working away at a pad of paper. She’d scribble something wildly on a sheet, tear it off, put it off to the side, and then attack the next sheet. The sheets of paper piled up.

A visitor — I think it was Haj Ross — came by, watched this scene with amusement, and asked Elizabeth what she was doing.

“I’m writing my dissertation!” she answered, in a tone suggesting that that should have been obvious. Well, it was what she saw my graduate students, and her mother, do.

I think we explained that she could take a break whenever she needed one.

Her daughter, at 6, is up to “inventing a language” in collaboration with another kid. Actually it’s a cipher for English, with a novel glyph for each letter of the alphabet. All very methodical, with all the letters, in the right order.

(I wonder if she could learn to alphabetize things. A kid who can alphabetize things — Elizabeth could at a pretty young age, and was soon better at it than many of the students I hired for such tasks — is a genuinely useful person to have around.)



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