I’m often asked, “Did you always want to be a writer?” The simple answer is, “No.” But that’s a cop-out. I seriously doubt that any author can say, in all honesty, that he or she always wanted to be a writer. That just wouldn’t be true, nor would it tell the whole story. So, here is mine.
My dad, Joseph Perrone Sr, who died much to0 soon, on the day after his 55th birthday, was the original “writer” in our family. Politically, he would be considered somewhat of a moderate conservative by today’s standards. In my young mind, he was a “fighter,” a kind of Don Quixote, if you will—always tilting at one imaginary windmill or another. The preferred avenue for venting his spleen was the classic “letter to the editor.” (Ironically, he lost his actual spleen when he was run over by a car as a youth.) Dad had an opinion on everything, and he enjoyed sharing it with as many people as possible. One day he might be writing to protest the high cost of gasoline, or the changing curriculum at our elementary school. Other days, the topic could be an election, or a proposed construction project. I was always enthralled by his selection of words, and the official sounding way he put them together.
I didn’t write my first official letter to the editor until spring of 1965, when I was a freshman at Eastern Kentucky State College in Richmond, Kentucky (university status was granted the following year). I sent it to the school paper and a prominent state newspaper. The subject of the letter was, to put it mildly, quite controversial at the time. It concerned race relations. Back then, Eastern’s student population was right around 4,000, and of those only about forty were Black (referred to as African American, today). Because many of the Black males were athletes on scholarship, and since I was a physical education major, it was only natural that I spent a lot of time with them, and became friends with quite a few. Without going into too much detail, the letter voiced my displeasure at the way a particular racial incident had been handled by local police and school officials.
What I learned from writing that letter was that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. There were some serious repercussions that occurred as a result. (To learn the full story, read my coming-of-age novel, Escaping Innocence: A Story of Awakening. In it, the full details are revealed, with the facts, names, and places changed somewhat, of course, to protect both the innocent and the guilty.) In many regards, it could be said that writing that letter was the seminal moment in my genesis as a writer. Ever since then, I have written scores of letters to the editor(s) of many newspapers, the majority of them located in the north, where I lived for more than fifty years, and the balance of them in the south, which has been my home for the last sixteen years. I have also made a habit of writing to my congressmen, my senators, my state representatives, and more than a few presidents of the United States. One of my most treasured possessions is a signed letter I received from former president George Herbert Walker Bush, in response to my letter to him.
But the climate for writers of letters to the editor is changing. Up until very recently, I had never not had one of my letters published. However, several months ago, a friend and I each submitted letters to our local newspaper, the topics of which were entirely different. Neither letter ever saw the light of day. There was one thing that both letters had in common, though. Each expressed a political viewpoint that was decidedly opposite to that of the newspaper. More and more, I am finding that newspapers are staking out certain positions on most issues, and are becoming less and less tolerant of opposing viewpoints. This is a sad day for America, because the Letters to the Editor page has always been a safe haven for dissenting points of view.
But take heart, just as the printed word is slowly being abandoned by many in favor of its electronic counterpart (even I prefer my Kindle for most of my casual reading), there are new forums being created every day to replace the Letters to the Editor page. These are places of true diversity, where individuals can not only voice their own opinions, but can discover how others feel about things, as well. In fact, you’ve already discovered one of them: the blog. As the late comedian, Redd Foxx, might have said: “Hey, dummy, you got an opinion? Get yourself a blog!”