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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Hemphill’

Paul Hemphill’s memorial service was today at noon. It was a sweet and enjoyable tribute to his life and to his words. The room was wall-to-wall with literary talent, lots of ink stained wretches, but as one editorial type observed, “We clean up good.” And, interestingly, there were no television types there, which must say something.

Afterwards, lunch at Manuel’s Tavern and some enjoyable moments with someone whom I had corresponded with for many years but had not met in person.  And then , back to the real world, stuck in traffic on the Downtown Connector.

There’s something appropriate in the fact that Hemphill died around the baseball All-Star break.  Paul loved the game, unsuccessfully tried for a career in the game and followed it for years.  So, right in the middle of the baseball season, there is a game that really decides nothing, one that is played simply out of love for the game.  It’s a boys’ game played by men, and the All-Star game is just that, all stars, chosen by the fans.  Tomorrow, the competition begins again, but for the moment it is just the game.

Paul Hemphill led a full and interesting life.  Lucky us.

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Paul Hemphill, Writer

Paul Hemphill has died at age 73.  He leaves behind family, friends and a prodigious body of the written word.

It is hard to understate the lasting legacy Paul Hemphill has given to writers yet unborn; whatever we write is built upon what has been written before.  Before you can write, you must read and you must experience.  And to be a successful Southern writer is an even greater achievement simply because the competition is so great.  The Southern writer is a captive of place and people and pain, yet from all that, Paul Hemphill did it all.  His was a clean and elegiac style, vividly remembering what had been.

There are countless stories about Mr. Hemphill, but his epiphany at Emile’s French Restaurant is perhaps the best.  It is far better recounted in his own essay “Quitting the Paper” from his 1981 book, “Too Old to Cry”.  Emile’s was a few blocks walk from the old Atlanta Journal building, around the corner from Herrin’s.  Hidden away on a narrow side street, Emile’s was a perfect place for the conspiratorial gin-fueled meeting which led to his departure from the Atlanta Journal.  It was there that reason and practicality were thrown to the wind and Paul Hemphill cut out on his own.  Emile’s is  long gone, but there should be a plaque on the wall for every writer that contemplates breaking free and going it alone.

Hemphill had set a grueling pace, writing daily columns for years.  The best description I have heard is that the newspaper is a monster that eats writers, and every day it takes another bite.  Of course, what was to happen next is uniquely Paul’s; sixteen books and thousands of newspaper columns and essays show that.

There is no adequate way to explain why people see and then try to put words to what has been.  There are insufficient words to explain the compulsion of writing, but proofs of the skill are self evident by what is put to paper.  With his words and his eye, Paul Hemphill supplied the seeds for future generations of those who aspire to write.  He showed them with his craft.

We are told to write what we know, so in that way, there can never be another Paul Hemphill.  Each generation of writers experience a different world, see different things.  What Hemphill’s generation wrote was often called “The New Journalism“, and it was a clear break from what had been written before.  There are those who consider Hunter S. Thompson to be the most flamboyant example, but those who say that never saw Paul Hemphill and Harry Crews in full sway at Manuel’s Tavern.  And, writing in that style was not necessarily limited to the the confines of the outrageous, George J. W. Goodman’sThe Money Game” is proof of that.

There have been those of the younger generation that drink and act like Hunter Thompson in the expectations that they will then write like Hunter Thompson, but it doesn’t work that way.  Each generation must find its own way of speaking.  Each generation must write through their own experiences.  Each generation builds on what has been written before.

Hemphill’s words were hard and gritty because his life had once been hard and gritty.  Hemphill wrote what he knew, and did it gorgeously.  We no longer have the benefit of his presence, but we have the lasting benefit of his words.  Paul Hemphill is now gone, but his words are still with us forever.

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