Steve Barnes: One of My Heroes

The Morning News: Columns : Southern Custom Is Comforting.


Steve Barnes was at KARK when I was there in the mid-1980s. He and his bride, Amy, first encouraged me NOT to pursue TV journalism. When I did, and moved to Meridian, Mississippi, the two purchased a book for me — at the Tower Bookstore across the alley from KARK (I’m almost certain) — and signed it.

Barnes’ literary mentor is E.B. White (of Charlotte’s Web fame, for the non-literary types among us). The book Steve and Amy gave me as a going away gift — to do something they said I’d be better off not doing  — was E.B. White’s biography. The inscription says something like, “Read, and learn from the master, Steve & Amy.”

I’ve seen both a few times since I left KARK, but only in brief, public moments. Most likely, neither of them remembers the gift, but I do. It is one of those artifacts that represents a larger idea — it has sustained me through tough career sledding and personal heartache.

Also, I’ve taken time to read White’s works — his essays about New York and about his life in a more rural setting are fascinating. He loved crowds and motion, and he cherished solitude — watching a lone critter go about its business, knowing he was sharing a private moment with a furry, four-legged creature.

Barnes writes twice a week for Stephens Media. Today’s essay is a classic example of why I so greatly admire his work. He begins with gentle, heart-felt praise about our shared Southern culture — about how funerals here are so much more comforting than in other parts of the country.

He weaves in a bit of political commentary, a scathing rebuke about today’s media, and reveals a bit of himself when he shares with the reader that he’s adding 2 beach books to his summer reading list.

As usual, though, the piece isn’t about Steve. It’s about us. Us as Arkansans who know how to grieve, and about us as Americans, who are making judgments about pundits getting rich off dividing our nation. Barnes’ personal reaction is to further educate himself — and to learn about diplomacy and war at the feet of the masters — military men and politicians who won World War II.

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