Children's Author Tortured by Own Genius

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From an article in America’s Best Newspaper Writing titled “Dr. Seuss: Wild Orchestrator of Plausible Nonsense for Kids” by Cynthia Gorney:

“He reads for distraction.  He needs it.  When he is at work, the names, the verse, the story line, the colors, the shapes and sizes of his extraordinary characters all press upon him” (170).

Wow!  This line really drew me in as a reader.  By telling us this, and especially by the way she worded it, she makes it clear that Dr. Seuss is not only a genius, but a prisoner.  He is tortured by his own imagination.  Because he is creating a completely different world that is inhabited by different animals than we are used to he is, in a way, God-like.  But it’s too much for a human to handle.  Instead of saying what I said, though, she instead tells us that his pleasure reading is a distraction, an escape from his world of Wockets and Zairs.  She lets the reader draw the conclusions that he is a genius that is maybe too smart for his own good.  THIS is good writing.  In high school the features were my favorite articles to write (next to opinions because let’s face it, I have a lot of those) because there is so much more room for your personality to shine through.  The way Gorney words her sentences and constructs this article we can see that she is a skilled wordsmith without her looking showy.

What else did you like about her writing?  Or not like?

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3 Comments

Josie Rush said:

Totally agreed about the skill of the author being apparent in this article, Angela. I think the real talent is shown by the she makes it look easy. It's not "showy" writing like some fiction, prose, or poetry. Her strength is in her simplicity.

I also enjoyed Gorney's use of language; I really appreciated the fact that it never upstaged her subject, a talented wordsmith himself. I had never thought about it, but there is potentially a lot of leeway you can have when writing these kinds of stories in terms of your creativity. The detail you mentioned about her characterizing Geisel as almost a prisoner of his own genius is something that somebody else might not have picked up on. Who would have thought that Dr. Seuss is a tortured artist? It shows she has a way of observing people that is very unique and sheds light on aspects of people's characters that you wouldn't normally expect. This really comes in handy with a profile piece like this, which could be really cut and dried with little new or interesting to be learned about a famous figure like Dr. Seuss. It's Gorney's creativity that really makes this piece so particularly interesting.

Greta Carroll said:

Gorney is certainly an adept at manipulating language to her purposes. However, I found some of her word choices questionable. For example, at one point she writes, "Geisel smiles a small, slightly evil smile" (171). Maybe I'm wrong, but this sounds more like a creative writing piece than a news article. Granted, she is doing a profile and not a hard news article about some horrible catastrophe, but still a lot of her word choices seemed to be simply her using flowery, opinionated language. I don't think she can back up that his smile was "slightly evil" with any sort of evidence. I can just see myself turning in a news article were I write that some person has a "slightly evil smile" and getting it back with big red marks on it.

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