Penelope Niven: saying yes

8B10D2BB-1DD8-B71C-07540DCA7652B6EC-smallThere’s a fascinating obit in the NYT today: Penelope Niven, biographer of poet Carl Sandburg, writer Thornton Wilder, and photographer Edward Steichen, died on August 28, 2014.

It’s a story of saying yes, which had to have involved a lot of saying no, which is the topic of today’s regular 9:30 a.m. post: No is YES. Think about it : It’s the 1970s. A forty-year-old high school English teacher who’s never written a book becomes obsessed with Carl Sandburg after helping (unpaid) with an exhibit of his papers. She knows a biography must be written, that Sandburg must be reintroduced to American readers, but until Sandburg’s former agent suggests it, she never considers herself as author.

Fourteen years and one divorce later, her book is published. To write such a definitive and respected biography she must have had to choose repeatedly between work and everything else in her life. She must have had to say no to many people in order to say yes to her work.

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