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If you like Peggy Noonan's story, you might also like:
George H.W. Bush,
Sam Donaldson,
Nora Ephron,
Doris Kearns Goodwin,
Nicholas Kristof,
David McCullough
and Dan Rather

Peggy Noonan's recommended reading: The Moviegoer

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Peggy Noonan
Peggy Noonan
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Peggy Noonan Interview

Journalist and Presidential Speechwriter

June 3, 1995
Williamsburg, Virginia

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  Peggy Noonan

When did you first know that you loved to write? What brought that about?

Peggy Noonan: When I was in the third grade, my teacher, Miss Brown, assigned us all, all of the kids in the class, about 30 kids, to write a poem about Thanksgiving. And I just threw myself into this poem on Thanksgiving. I think I worked on it, if I remember right, for a few days. Then we all handed our poems in and Miss Brown was so impressed by my poem on Thanksgiving that she read it to the entire class. Then she told them I had written it, and when she told them I had written it, I thought, "Well, I'm a writer. It's clear I'm a writer. She thinks I'm a writer. I enjoyed writing the poem, I must be a writer." So I'm quite serious -- I mean, everybody sort of arbitrarily picks a point where they understood they were going to be an astronaut or a roller skater or a writer. I suppose that is my arbitrary point, but it is the one that I think of first.

Do you still have the poem?

Peggy Noonan: No, I wish I did. But, you know, I thought it was good too. I can remember thinking, "This is good stuff." [Laughs] I was about eight or nine.

What was it about putting words together that you enjoyed so much?

Peggy Noonan: Oh, it's like one of the scientists, one of the Nobel Prize winners on a panel today said -- I think it was Edward Teller -- said, "It is my job to search for the truth." I always think that's what writers think. They always think that if they get the really perfect word, that really perfectly conveys what the breakfast roll looked like, that they've captured a truth about reality at that moment. So I think it's the same. It's actually that old cliché, the search for truth, that impels scientists, doctors, philosophers, and even writers.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

What person was particularly inspirational to you as a child?

Peggy Noonan: I had a tendency when I was a kid to be more impressed with people that I saw on television than people that I saw immediately around me, you know. The first political figure who made a big impression on me was John F. Kennedy. I had just turned ten when he was elected President, and of course, in my family we were all for the Kennedys because we were Irish Catholic too. I mean, it was almost that simple, you know. And of course, we were Democrats. If you're Irish Catholic from Brooklyn, of course you were a Democrat. What else would you be? But we just loved the Kennedys. And then after John Kennedy was shot, when he was eulogized so often and became such a national hero, I think I sort of absorbed a sense of what you want to do and how you want to live and who you want to be from the many eulogies about him and essays about him and even books about him, like Vance Bourjaily's The Man Who Knew Kennedy. So I can remember John F. Kennedy made a great impression on me when I was a kid.

You must have been quite a reader.

Peggy Noonan: Yeah, I was.

What books stand out in your mind from your youth?

Peggy Noonan: I was trying to think of that today when I was on the panel. They were asking and I sort of went blank. As I said, I was a great reader of biographies. I am a person -- I actually love reality. I love stories that -- when a movie begins with the words, "This is a true story," immediately I am more interested than a made-up story. So I was very drawn to history. I was very drawn to biography. I'm just drawn to what actually happened. And that was true of me even when I was a kid. Although when I was a romantic teenager, and in my early 20s, I went through a real novel-reading time: Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. And later Edith Wharton and Walker Percy, who actually -- whose work was so great, he actually became a hero to me when I was in my 30s.

I read The Moviegoer when I was a young woman, and it made such a strong impression on me that I had to put it down when I was done and go back to it two years later and read it again and see, "Is this wonderful?" Ultimately, I thought it was probably the great American novel of the latter part of the 20th century. And every now and then life turns gratifying. When I got to the Reagan White House, and we got -- as Special Assistants to the President to nominate people for the Medal of Freedom, I was so honored that I got to -- I spent a week writing an essay telling Ronald Reagan why he should pick Walker Percy for the Medal of Freedom and honor him in the White House of our great nation. I think this was in 1984. But they gave it to Frank Sinatra instead. And then Walker Percy died about a year or two years later and I'm still upset that he never got the Medal of Freedom. But anyway, it was fun to have loved something so much and then to have told the President about it, and to tell him, "Do something for this man. He's a great man."

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