Yesterday morning while driving I was listening to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's morning radio program "q" when a very interesting interview began. It featured New York Times obituary writer Bruce Weber, who is touring to promote a new documentary film by Vanessa Gould that focuses on the obituary department of the Times. (Links are provided below.)
Among other things, Mr. Weber talked about the process involved in deciding who will have their obituary written for the Times and who won't. As he said, many people are worthy but not many are newsworthy, and it is this latter quality that is usually the deciding factor.
As interesting as the interview was, it was the very last thing Mr. Weber said that stayed with me. Asked about his insight into how people featured in a Times obit have contributed to history, he said that many of his obituaries have covered people who contributed a great deal to history, such as distinguished veterans, but whose lives are largely forgotten, as the famous tend to overshadow the less-than-famous. However, he said, there are many less-than-famous people whose lives have nudged history in a certain direction.
He concluded: "The human race is just unbelievably deep. We've got a big bench."
He said it with such enthusiasm and affection that it stayed with me long after I got out of the car and went about with the rest of my day. Given that he'd talked about the sadness of his job and how it had affected his long-term view of life, his enduring fascination with people and the contributions they make in their lives resonated with me.
I recognized in it my own unflagging interest in people and my very strong conviction that there is no end to the supply of inspiration for the characters that writers create for their stories. There's no reason on earth why readers should ever settle for flat or stereotypic characters when, as Mr. Weber said, "the human race is just unbelievably deep." There's no reason why I should settle for less, either, in my own work.
Find the CBC interview of Bruce Weber here
Find the teaser for the documentary film Obit here