RIP Allan W. Eckert

I’ve loved books for years.

When I was a kid, though, there was a bit of a disconnect. For some reason, I thought of writers as famous people and not people with normal lives. I thought they’d all live like rock stars and in glamorous towns and houses with all the books anyone could ever want, and that they would all live in New York or Hollywood and wait for movies to be made of their books. (hey, I was eight; give me some leeway here-I don’t think I was too much past believing in the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.)

Then I learned that there was a renowned book author living not ten miles from where I grew up. He’d been nominated for seven separate Pulitzers. And he wrote A LOT. Big door-stopper sized books, and a bunch of them, mainly dealing with nature, Ohio and Midwest history, and Native American history. As I grew up, I learned that more people knew his name than I realized.

But he lived in Bellefontaine, Ohio. In my neck of the woods. Nothing wrong with Bellefontaine. Like a lot of small Ohio towns, though, it’s cute, not glamorous. It’s small, not glitzy. And it was home, not some exotic locale with palm fronds and beach fronts.

That didn’t really burst the bubble of venerating authors in my heart of hearts. Instead, it lit a fire under me. If this guy from Bellefontaine could be a well-known author, why couldn’t a girl who grew up in West Liberty, just ten miles away? It made the dream of writing more accessible, more realistic. Hey, I realized, it is possible for me, this small town girl from the Midwest, to write and be successful at it. 

Still working on the success part. But the writing, oh, I’m doing that.

He’s not the only writer in the area. Far from it. But he was the first one I’d heard of that was successful enough to count in my eight-year-old brain as a “Writer” and one who was known for being a writer. Probably that was influenced because my dad and my uncles read his books voraciously and I saw them lying around all the time. I read one of his books, years ago, as a teenager. (The Frontiersmen, and I remember being fascinated by the history in it, and how it all related to real life places that I’d seen and been to and heard of).

Now don’t be thinking that I’m talking down about Ohio, about the Midwest, or about my hometown or the surrounding area. I’m not. I am saying that when I was a kid, for some reason, I had a belief that writers just didn’t live here, weren’t from around here, and didn’t come from here. Mr. Eckert’s success blew that belief right out of the water.

So, when the word came today that Allan Eckert died in his sleep last night at the age of 80, I couldn’t help but remember the unknowing, silent encouragement that he’d given to me as a writer. I’ve never met the man. But I wish his family well, and I will be thinking of them as they work through the condolences and good-byes and services. And it’s hard not to say a small prayer of thank-you for this man, for providing an example to me that being a writer wasn’t wishing on a star that could never come in…much like any other goal in life, it’s something anyone can aspire to as long as they work for it, they sacrifice for it, and they are willing to put the time in to learn. It’s a goal that doesn’t matter where you live or who you are, because it’s not about any of that. It’s about the writing. I can live with that. And I can do that.

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