By Hank Nuwer
My wife Gosia and I attended the annual awards banquet of the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists on April 22.
At the bar I greeted Tom Davies of the Associated Press.
“Tom, it’s Hank,” I said. “Do you remember me?”
“Yes, he said, “you were leaving Ball State as a professor the year I graduated from there.”
Sigh. He’s right. That was 1989, 33 long years ago
That’s when I left teaching for a few years while blessed with a Gannett Newspaper fellowship to write my first serious book. Now Tom is here as an SPJ board member. I am here to get an award in column writing for The Early Bird.
I came back to the table with a red wine for me, a beer for Gosia, and a stunning revelation.
“Gosia, it was 1962 when I published two opinion columns in the Buffalo Evening News,” I said. “This is my 60th anniversary as a journalist.”
Unimpressed, Gosia took a sip of her Fat Tire. “Some people don’t live so long,” she said.
My first professional journalism gig began as a reporter in 1968 at a weekly newspaper in New York. I covered the Woodstock Music Festival, protests in Washington, D.C., and tons of criminal cases.
I covered an armed bank robbery by a man desperate to get money for his wife’s cancer treatments.
I had to take his photo as police marched him out of his arraignment. The 60-something man shook his head and mouthed the word, “No.”
I flinched but took his photo. That was my job. His wife died with him rotting in prison.
I began selling stories to magazines in 1968. One was about the 1895 collapse of the Tilly Foster Mine outside Brewster, New York. Thirteen miners from Italy died. Management buried them by their assigned numbers, their names unknown.
I left the newspaper in 1970 to earn an M.A. in New Mexico. I paid for graduate school writing stringer news articles for the Santa Fe New Mexican.
After a murder occurred on a locked floor in a mental hospital, I interviewed six residents. I didn’t have a clue which inmate was the murderer. But my story ran on the New Mexican’s front-page.
Next, I served as co-editor of the University of Nevada’s literary magazine Brushfire from 1972 to 1975. I wangled submissions from authors Joyce Carol Oates, Kentuckian Jesse Stuart, and Basque novelist Robert Laxalt.
For many years after leaving Reno, I wrote freelance magazine articles.
A 1978 article on fraternity hazing deaths for Human Behavior magazine led me to create a database of deaths that I continue to this day. Link: https://www.hanknuwer.com/hazing-destroying-young-lives/
I interviewed singer Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys when he ran for mayor of San Francisco. He was in a sour mood because his bathtub clogged. I got slugged at the concert’s mosh pit.
For Boston magazine in 1982, I twice interviewed two butchers from Dorchester about their champion horse Timely Writer. I grieved on October 9, 1982. Timely Writer shattered a leg and had to be destroyed.
I sipped tea in 1984 at the Drake Hotel for an airline magazine profile of David Mamet. The playwright liked it so much he sent me a gallon of maple syrup.
On the other hand, Shane author Jack Schaefer hated my profile of him and wrote a nasty note.
Sometimes money was tight.
The Saturday Evening Post once was late on payment for three stories. I had my son call editor Bruce
Kinnaird. “Bruce, all we have in the refrigerator is ketchup and peanut butter,” he said. “Pay my daddy!”
Bruce told me: “That was a mean trick but creative.” He sat outside the publisher’s office door until she signed a check.
Oops, end of reflection.
It was time for SPJ to announce the “Best Column” winners.
I was terribly arrogant once upon a time; I hate to admit.
For decades I won journalism competitions, but I only listed first place awards on my resume. I buried second and third
place certificates in a box. Last year, my Near Darke column was named Best of Show by Ohio SPJ judges.
“Third place for Best Column, Hank Nuwer for Early Bird coverage of Union City and Randolph County,” said a moderator.
I accepted and came back to the table.
Gosia inspected the certificate. “I know you,” she said. “You were disappointed with third place.”
Even my ears turned red.
“You should have said, `There’s been some misunderstanding,’” Gosia joked. “`This certificate says third place instead of first.’ That would have made some people laugh.”
“Yeah, and made other people say, `Who’s that butthead?’”
Gosia turned serious. “You are lucky to work at a job for which you feel such passion,”
“Gosia, you’re right,” I said. “Can you frame this certificate?”
Hank Nuwer is an author, columnist and playwright. He and wife Gosia live on the Indiana side of the Union City state line. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.