Sometimes something happens that’s so unexpected, so moving, so deeply satisfying — that it leaves most of us speechless. And glad to be alive.
Such was the case when I heard the news last week that Gilbert King had won a Pulitzer for his most recent book.
You’ve never heard of him, right? See this photo of me? (I use it on Facebook, Twitter, and here on the About page.) He took it. He was an established fashion photographer (which, heh, is why he was able to make me look so nice).
But Gilbert also wanted to write, and to write history. That’s what we talked about that day in 2006 when he took that photo. This was in New York City, where he lives and where I was visiting. My new book was about to come out, and I needed publicity photos. (*1)
So Gilbert toted his camera around the environs of the Upper West Side. This photo was taken on a brownstone stoop on W. 82nd St.
After we finished, we went for lunch. And talked. And he told me about his literary aspirations. He wanted to write a book about a long-forgotten legal case that involved a young black man in the south. He didn’t have a publisher. He didn’t have an “credentials” or “platform,” as the publishing insiders call it. He just wanted to write this book.
So he did.
Life goes on. We’ve been in touch a few times, but I’ve not seen him since that day. And now he’s won a Pulitzer for his second book. (*2) And this profile in the New York Times.
I lack the skill to express how happy I am for him, but far more important, how moved I am that he pursued this work for the love of writing and knowing and learning and making a statement.
And apparently the people who make Big Decisions decided he’d done not just well, but had achieved excellence.
Life is an odd thing, you know? One day, you’re clipping along doing what you can do to make your place in the world better and to be the best human you can. And then — someone notices.
Life’s best prize: Joy.
*1: Truly oddball story behind that. I’ve only met Gilbert in person once; the day he took the photos. But we’d met virtually some months earlier in an online writing group. I can’t recall now how or why that particular group started (and soon ended) (as most such groups do). At some point, he offered to take some publicity photos for me,
The next time I was in NYC, I took him up on his offer. (Which is surprising. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t take freebies from anyone.) So he shot photos and then we went to lunch and talked and talked. The afternoon was delightful. He’s a lovely man and simply the kind of person with whom anyone would feel comfortable. After lunch, his lifelong best friend came to meet him (as did a mutual friend of mine and Gilbert’s). We sat in the bar of Gramercy Tavern and talked some more. By the time we parted company, I felt as though Gilbert and his friend were old acquaintances. I remember feeling sad that the day had to end.
*2: The bookies were NOT betting on Gilbert for the 2013 award. Another book that had been a bestseller and received a great deal of attention was also in the running. I think most people, including me (had anyone asked me; I wasn’t paying attention), assumed the other book would win.