Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Huston Smith writes autobiography

By Louis Sahagun - Los Angeles Times - Los Angeles,CA,U.S.A.
Tuesday, December 27, 2006

Huston Smith, honored for his 14 books analyzing the world's faiths and their leaders, is persuaded to work on his memoirs.

The grand old man of comparative religion — he's 87 — is hard at work on a new book, perhaps his last, on his toughest subject yet: himself.

Gazing out the living room window of his hillside home at trees shedding leaves past their prime, Smith said, "I've been dead set against writing an autobiography. But a friend said, 'Huston, no one living has had the range of experiences you've had. You owe it to posterity to put it all down.' "

So Smith is pressing ahead with the book, although he continues to recuperate from ailments that have landed him in the hospital four times since May.

Smith doesn't set out to write inspirational books, but many readers cherish his books as inspiring beacons to steer by. Filled with anecdotes and character sketches of religious figures, his works offer accessible but scholarly analyses of the world's faiths.

"Religion is not primarily a matter of facts," he once wrote, "it is a matter of meanings.

"The working title of his autobiography is "Tales of Wonder, Tales of Deep Delight." The title was drawn from a phrase in a poem by Robert Penn Warren.

Leaning back in an easy chair, the venerable professor with gossamer white hair said it's never been his style — or that of the spiritual leaders he's apprenticed with over the years — to call attention to his personal life.

"Autobiography just pumps and inflates my ego, which is already inflated anyway," he explained with a wry smile. "And frankly, I had other books I wanted to write.""I'm a religious communicator," he added. "And I want to work myself out of my ego. I want to be turned outward onto this fantastic world and other people and their needs and not on myself."

That would explain why he initially toyed with a different title for his memoirs, "Here Lies No One."

Although Smith's is not a household name, his 14 books include "The World's Religions," a standard introductory college textbook that has sold more than 2 1/2 million copies.
The holder of 12 honorary degrees, he rose to national attention in 1996 when he was featured in a five-part PBS series, "The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith."
A recent book, "Why Religion Matters," won the Wilbur Award for the best book on religion in 2001.

In honor of Smith's literary legacy, Harper San Francisco, has created a new award category for authors who best "embody the spirit of Huston Smith's work of promoting the history and cause of religion in the world and its interface with culture," said his publisher at Harper, Mark Tauber.

(...)

Not all of Smith's tales of wonder involve famous people. Among the most influential people in his life was television producer Mayo Simon, who in the 1950s taught him a formula for blending content with delivery that Smith developed into a stirring stage persona.

They met while working on one of public television's first education programs on religion. "He was hard on me, very hard," Smith recalled. "The evening before each program, he'd call me to his apartment and stand me up for a dry run."

"I can still hear his withering remarks: 'Doesn't sound too red-hot to me!' meaning back to the drawing boards," Smith said. "He said, 'Huston, a television audience is different than a classroom. In this medium, you lose them for 30 seconds and they'll change the channel. So make your points and follow each one with an anecdote or a fragment of poetry that connects them to daily life."

The formula worked when describing others, but the man who has helped untold thousands to better understand themselves and the universe has struggled through two drafts of his memoirs.

1 comment:

Yafiah said...

What a beautiful photo of Huston Smith. He appears full of humour and gentleness. It must be quite a challenge to write an autobiography when you are striving to shed the veils of the ego. I like that piece of advice to "make your points and follow each one with an anecdote or a fragment of poetry that connects them to daily life." It sounds like a good formula for writing as well.

Thank you for bringing us this news and, insh'allah, it won't be long before the memoirs are available.

Greetings,
yafiah

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Huston Smith writes autobiography
By Louis Sahagun - Los Angeles Times - Los Angeles,CA,U.S.A.
Tuesday, December 27, 2006

Huston Smith, honored for his 14 books analyzing the world's faiths and their leaders, is persuaded to work on his memoirs.

The grand old man of comparative religion — he's 87 — is hard at work on a new book, perhaps his last, on his toughest subject yet: himself.

Gazing out the living room window of his hillside home at trees shedding leaves past their prime, Smith said, "I've been dead set against writing an autobiography. But a friend said, 'Huston, no one living has had the range of experiences you've had. You owe it to posterity to put it all down.' "

So Smith is pressing ahead with the book, although he continues to recuperate from ailments that have landed him in the hospital four times since May.

Smith doesn't set out to write inspirational books, but many readers cherish his books as inspiring beacons to steer by. Filled with anecdotes and character sketches of religious figures, his works offer accessible but scholarly analyses of the world's faiths.

"Religion is not primarily a matter of facts," he once wrote, "it is a matter of meanings.

"The working title of his autobiography is "Tales of Wonder, Tales of Deep Delight." The title was drawn from a phrase in a poem by Robert Penn Warren.

Leaning back in an easy chair, the venerable professor with gossamer white hair said it's never been his style — or that of the spiritual leaders he's apprenticed with over the years — to call attention to his personal life.

"Autobiography just pumps and inflates my ego, which is already inflated anyway," he explained with a wry smile. "And frankly, I had other books I wanted to write.""I'm a religious communicator," he added. "And I want to work myself out of my ego. I want to be turned outward onto this fantastic world and other people and their needs and not on myself."

That would explain why he initially toyed with a different title for his memoirs, "Here Lies No One."

Although Smith's is not a household name, his 14 books include "The World's Religions," a standard introductory college textbook that has sold more than 2 1/2 million copies.
The holder of 12 honorary degrees, he rose to national attention in 1996 when he was featured in a five-part PBS series, "The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith."
A recent book, "Why Religion Matters," won the Wilbur Award for the best book on religion in 2001.

In honor of Smith's literary legacy, Harper San Francisco, has created a new award category for authors who best "embody the spirit of Huston Smith's work of promoting the history and cause of religion in the world and its interface with culture," said his publisher at Harper, Mark Tauber.

(...)

Not all of Smith's tales of wonder involve famous people. Among the most influential people in his life was television producer Mayo Simon, who in the 1950s taught him a formula for blending content with delivery that Smith developed into a stirring stage persona.

They met while working on one of public television's first education programs on religion. "He was hard on me, very hard," Smith recalled. "The evening before each program, he'd call me to his apartment and stand me up for a dry run."

"I can still hear his withering remarks: 'Doesn't sound too red-hot to me!' meaning back to the drawing boards," Smith said. "He said, 'Huston, a television audience is different than a classroom. In this medium, you lose them for 30 seconds and they'll change the channel. So make your points and follow each one with an anecdote or a fragment of poetry that connects them to daily life."

The formula worked when describing others, but the man who has helped untold thousands to better understand themselves and the universe has struggled through two drafts of his memoirs.

1 comment:

Yafiah said...

What a beautiful photo of Huston Smith. He appears full of humour and gentleness. It must be quite a challenge to write an autobiography when you are striving to shed the veils of the ego. I like that piece of advice to "make your points and follow each one with an anecdote or a fragment of poetry that connects them to daily life." It sounds like a good formula for writing as well.

Thank you for bringing us this news and, insh'allah, it won't be long before the memoirs are available.

Greetings,
yafiah