Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Horton Foote Legacy

The New Yorker recently featured an article on the life and work of Horton Foote (10/26/09 by John Lahr). In his writing, Foote "made meaning of the world he sought to preserve." He believed the first lesson of good writing was an ability to listen--to really listen. An inquisitive person by nature, he was "haunted by the often inexplicable result of how a person's life turned out." It led him to become a master storyteller for both the stage and screen. He won a Pulitzer Prize and two Academy Awards.

I had the privilege of meeting and speaking with Mr. Foote after seeing a revival of A Trip to Bountiful a few years ago. He was a strikingly humble and gracious man. (I also saw the last play he wrote before his death in March 2009, Dividing the Estate; I think it's his best.) In Foote's plays, "the big dramatic events happen offstage." Foote examined "the ripple not the wave. He was a quiet voice in noisy times." He won numerous awards and was probably best known for Tender Mercies, a film starring Robert Duvall, and for having written the screenplay for To Kill a Mockingbird (by Harper Lee). He is also credited for writing a brilliantly-inspired film adaption of "Tomorrow," a short story by William Faulkner.

Lahr states in the article: "It was not (Foote's) style, in life or in writing, to call attention to himself. As a result the quality of his work is high; the public awareness is low." If you're not familiar with Horton Foote's plays and/or his writing, you might want to catch "The Orphans' Home Cycle," a play in three parts that Foote wrote to "understand and forgive" his own father. It is currently being featured at the Signature Theater, which is honoring the Horton Foote Legacy for the 2009-2010 season.

Photo of Horton Foote by Marion Ettlinger/Corbis Outline