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E.O. Wilson

Father of Sociobiology

I suppose the earliest discovery I made was in 1942 at the age of 13. Because I happened to be living in the middle of Mobile, near the dock area, I found the first colonies ever recorded of the imported fire ant, which has now spread all over the United States. The State of Alabama asked me to do the first survey. The ant was spreading out then from Mobile, and so my first papers were on the imported fire ant. I was able to -- on the basis of the observation I had made at 13, in 1942, and then the ones that I was making in 1949 -- piece together the arrival time and the rate of spread in the earliest expansion of what is now one of the leading insect pests in the country. So that was a rewarding experience.
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E.O. Wilson

Father of Sociobiology

In fact, there is an area called the Ten Thousand Islands, and my idea first, which I started in 1965, was to go down to the Dry Tortugas and survey and map every plant and animal on those little sandy islands off Key West and then wait for a hurricane to wipe them clean -- because we know every time that a hurricane passed through there, they were wiped clean of life -- and then I would go back and study them. We actually got that started. We even had a couple of hurricanes conveniently occur that season, but I realized that that wasn't going to do it. So I had to figure out a way of eliminating all these little arthropods.
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E.O. Wilson

Father of Sociobiology

Edward O. Wilson: I guess it has become almost like a platitude, but I like to say I had a bug period like every kid. I just never outgrew mine. I had a kid's natural inclination to explore the environment, and if there was a wild environment nearby, all the better. It was all the more exciting, and just somehow in ways I just don't know -- I couldn't explain without, I suppose, psychoanalysis -- this took deeply in me. Part of the reason was I was an only kid, partly because I could see in only one eye. This one was injured when I was a small child, and I only saw in one eye. So I tended to look very closely at things that were very small. That I have trouble judging distance too, that might have enabled me to look for bigger organisms. I guess I evinced talent, because quite early I was picked up by teachers in these small schools in Alabama who encouraged that interest.
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E.O. Wilson

Father of Sociobiology

Edward O. Wilson: Yeah. Actually, that's quite true, in that I just thrilled at the idea of telling a story about an animal and so on, but I became counselor at a Boy Scouts camp at the age of 14, and that encouraged me a lot, because I was the youngest counselor, obviously, but I was a kid that the Scout Council of Mobile had heard of who knew a lot of natural history at 14. So I got into that environment and spent a summer, and then the next summer I was a nature counselor for the camp at Pensacola, as a resident expert and little professor. I had all the other scouts, including boys older than I was, out hunting snakes and frogs, and we were having a ball identifying them and talking about them and going on hunting trips and so on, and I guess that really may have turned me into a professor, an academic, because I saw how the love of nature and exploring the wild and so on fitted nicely into education. I even thought you might even make a living at it.
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Oprah Winfrey

Entertainment Executive

I was taught to read at an early age. By the time I was three, I was reciting speeches in the church. And they'd put me up on the program, and they would say, "and Little Mistress Winfrey will render a recitation," and I would do "Jesus rose on Easter Day, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, all the angels did proclaim." And all the sisters sitting in the front row would fan themselves and turn to my grandmother and say, "Hattie Mae, this child is gifted." And I heard that enough that I started to believe it. Maybe I am. I didn't even know what "gifted" meant, but I just thought it meant I was special. So anytime people came over, I'd recite. I'd recite Bible verses and poetry. By the time I was seven, I was doing "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley: "Out of the night that covers me, black as a pit from pole to pole. I thank whatever gods there be for my unconquerable soul." And at the time, I was saying it, I didn't know what I was talking about, but I'd do all the motions, "O-u-t of the night that covers me," and people would say, "Whew, that child can speak!" And so that's, you know, whatever you do a lot of, you get good at doing it. And that's just about how this whole broadcasting career started for me.
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Oprah Winfrey

Entertainment Executive

I don't know if anybody really skyrockets to success. I think that success is a process. And I believe that my first Easter speech, at Kosciusko Baptist Church, at the age of three and a half, was the beginning. And that every other speech, every other book I read, every other time I spoke in public, was a building block. So that by the time I first sat down to audition in front of a television camera, and somebody said, "Read this," what allowed me to read it so comfortably and be so at ease with myself at that time, was the fact that I had been doing it a while. If I'd never read a book, or never spoken in public before, I would have been traumatized by it. So the fact that we went on the air with "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 1986, nationally, and people said, "Oh, but you are so comfortable in front of the camera; you can be yourself." Well, it's because I've been being myself since I was 19, and I would not have been able to be as comfortable with myself had I not made mistakes on the air and been allowed to make mistakes on the air and understand that it doesn't matter.
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Tom Wolfe

America's Master Novelist

The writing programs, where you get the Masters of Fine Art in writing, are always telling people to "write what you know." And students interpret that to mean your own life. Unless you're Count Tolstoy, there's not that much in your own life. I'd be out with a cup if I had to write surely what's based on my own life. But in the 19th century, where there were so many great realistic novelists, they understood. You had to go outside of your own life to get new material. Even Dostoevsky, we think of him being such an internal, psychological creative force. When he wanted to write about the student radicals of his era, he went to the archives. And then started going -- he'd hear about a meeting of some of these groups, he'd go attend, to just get the material. Dickens was, of course, famous for this. Zola did it just time after time after time, going to a new area of life. He wanted to get all of France into a series of novels, and he pretty well did. He'd go from farming to warfare, to whatever he thought he really hadn't covered yet.
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Tom Wolfe

America's Master Novelist

So it was at that point that I started The Bonfire of the Vanities. And at first it was going to be a novel about New York. It had no real focus. It was going to be based more or less on Thackeray's Vanity Fair. Hence the title, The Bonfire of the Vanities. I thought I could -- I had been a reporter for all those years here in New York, and I thought I could just draw upon my experiences, the things I'd seen, and write this book. And I found I couldn't. For the way I wanted to write a novel, I had to go out and do reporting just like the reporting that I did for The Right Stuff, for the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, or anything else that I had written.
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Tom Wolfe

America's Master Novelist

I decided I should have a great party scene -- a party of great social wattage in a Fifth Avenue apartment -- in this book. And I had been to a number of parties like that. And so, I said, "At last. I don't have to do any research for this." So I wrote this chapter, and then I read it over, and it was like a gossip column. You know, just "Who's that person? Who's that person? What did he say? What did she say?" So the next one I went to, I just shut up. I was just on the receiving end of whatever was going on. And for the first time, I noticed the strained, willfully raucous laughter that goes on at parties like that. People laugh in this frantic manner as if to say, "See! I'm a part of all this, and I know what's funny, and I'm just having the time of my life because I fit in!" And then I'd notice that the worst fate in the world was not to be in a conversational cluster. And if somebody's left out, you'd see them studying paintings as if they were very fascinated with art. They'd talk to empty spots on the wall. At last resort, they'll go up to a wife or a husband and start conversation. But you've already lost the game if you're reduced to doing that. There were so many things that I saw once I was not a participant. I was just there. I noticed that, at that time -- and we're talking about the 1980s -- in an apartment of great social wattage, there was never modern lighting. There were no down-lighters, which is essentially industrial lighting. It was always, you were always sometime in the 19th century. Everything's overstuffed. There are these sort of small amber lamps that make everybody's complexion look pretty good. And I just never would have noticed any of this from my own experience. And I discovered that if my radar isn't on, if I haven't switched it on, I don't notice any more than anybody else does.
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