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If you like Charles Kuralt's story, you might also like:
Sam Donaldson,
Nicholas Kristof,
Dan Rather,
Mike Wallace and
Oprah Winfrey

Charles Kuralt's recommended reading: My Name is Aram

Charles Kuralt also appears in the video:
Changing Lanes

Related Links:
Remembering Charles Kuralt

Charles Kuralt Learning Center


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Charles Kuralt
Charles Kuralt
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Charles Kuralt Interview (page: 2 / 5)

A Life On the Road

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  Charles Kuralt

Is there a book that especially influenced or inspired you?

Charles Kuralt Interview Photo
Charles Kuralt: The first books I was interested in as a little kid were all about baseball. There was a children's sports novelist named John R. Tunis, and I read all of his books. I was fascinated by those stories. But I can't think of one single book that changed my life in any way. I loved William Saroyan's stories. I read them pretty early, and I couldn't get enough of the stories in the book, My Name is Aram, about life in the central valley of California. That was a world I didn't know, of course, and I was knocked out by his humor and his style.

To tell you the truth, I wasn't a very discriminating reader. I read just about everything that came along. I remember being in the public library in my hometown and my jaw just aching as I looked around at all those books I wanted to read, and couldn't. There just wasn't time enough in life to read everything I wanted to read.

Later on I became infatuated with all those old-time New Yorker magazine writers. E.B. White, in particular, I still regard as one of the truly great essayists in English. And Thurber, and E.J. Kahn, and all the rest of them. I loved that kind of writing and regret its passing in America today.

I believe that writing is derivative. I mean, I think good writing comes from good reading. And, I think that writers, when they sit down to write hear in their heads the rhythms of good writers they have read. Sometimes, I could even tell you which writer's rhythms I am imitating. It's not exactly plagiarism, but it's just experience. It's falling in love with good language and trying to imitate it.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

Tell me about your high school essay contest.

Charles Kuralt: It meant a lot to me. It's a contest that still goes on, called The Voice of Democracy contest. You write an essay and deliver it as a speech. I won the competition in Charlotte, North Carolina and went on to the state finals, and won there. Next thing I knew, I was notified that I was one of the four national winners. I was only 14. We got a trip to Washington. We read our speeches in the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, where Patrick Henry delivered some of his speeches and went on to Washington to meet the President. I still have, of course, a photograph of a very congenial President, Harry Truman with my mother and me, both of us wearing neat blue, double-breasted suits, the fashion of 1948. That contest and to my surprise, doing well in it added to my confidence. It made me think, "I can do this. I can write and speak with anybody my age." It was a great confidence builder. It did have an important effect in my life, I think.

Someone else who impressed you read that essay.

Charles Kuralt: Yes. One night at the Statler Hotel in Washington, my mother and I were told to be sure not to miss Edward R. Murrow's radio broadcast that night. Murrow always ended his radio broadcast with a quotation from the news, "a word for the day," he called it. And that night he quoted a couple of paragraphs of my essay. Oh, that was a great thrill because Murrow was a hero in our family. During World War II, my brother and sister and I knew not to cut up or talk loudly when Edward R. Murrow was on the air from London, reporting on the news of the war. I think my mother was especially proud that Murrow quoted her son on the air. Years later, when I became briefly a very junior colleague of Ed Murrow's, I told him that story and it just delighted him. He went about telling it to everybody. To think that he had quoted me on the air, and here I was working for CBS News a few years later.

What were you like in school?

Charles Kuralt: I got along okay. I was elected vice president of the class, and all that. I ran for president of the student body in high school and was soundly trounced by the quarterback of the football team, Slug Clayborne, who is still a friend of mine.

I was on the high school track team, believe it or not, and played baseball, poorly but passionately. But I didn't have very much spare time, because all through high school I was working, either writing junior high school sports for one of the local papers, or working after school at the radio station as a disk jockey and news reader. That was my greatest interest.

I couldn't wait for school to be out so that I could go uptown, about a mile away and go to work. I loved working. And, I suppose I was, in that way, a little bit of what would be called today a nerd. I didn't have girlfriends and really I wasn't a very social boy. But, I just loved writing and working at the radio station. I missed a good deal, I think. I certainly didn't pay as much attention in class as I should have. My family would take family vacations, but I'd always stay home, because I didn't want to miss out on the work. So, I know that I paid a little bit of a price as a look back on it for this passion for working which I had when I was a kid.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Who gave you your first big break?

Charles Kuralt Interview Photo
Charles Kuralt: There was another contest. I took part in, a sports writing contest for kids when I was only 12. There was a sports editor on The Charlotte News named Ray Howe. He took an interest in me and let me write pieces, not identified as being written by a young teenager, just freelance pieces for the sports page. He gave me my first byline on a junior high school basketball championship in our town.

Actually, all of the editors of that paper were very kind to me. And, I worked for the opposition paper sometimes too. I still have a piece of yellow copy paper somewhere with advice on it that I treasure. For a while there, I was a stringer. The expression comes from the old habit of stringing together the column inches that you had written for the paper that month. They'd measure it and pay you 10 cents an inch for your printed copy. That's the way I got paid in the beginning.

Bob Page, the city editor of The Charlotte Observer issued me a check, and one month the check was somewhat too large. It was a few dollars more than I had submitted. Dutiful, honest little boy that I was, I went down and said, "Mr. Page, you paid me too much." He frowned and said, " I'll look into it." The next day I got the check back again with a note that said: "The check is close enough. Please in the future don't ever complain about being overpaid, only about being underpaid." That was good advice.

What do you think these editors saw in you?

Charles Kuralt: I don't know. They saw an earnest, ambitious, hardworking kid, who tried to imitate the sportswriters on the paper.

They knew though that if I said I'd cover a junior high school game, that I would and that I would quickly get in there and turn my copy in. One of the prizes in the sports writing contest was getting to travel on a road trip with the team, by bus of course, to Knoxville and Asheville. And, they gave me my instructions about filing after the game -- do it as quickly as possible -- and told me the phrase to use when I walked into the Western Union office with my copy. It still gives me a little thrill of importance to say, "The Charlotte News, press rate, collect." [Laughter] That made me feel as adult as anything that ever happened in my youth.

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This page last revised on Feb 28, 2008 16:14 EST
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