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Key to success: Vision Key to success: Passion Key to success: Perseverance Key to success: Preparation Key to success: Courage Key to success: Integrity Key to success: The American Dream Keys to success homepage More quotes on Passion More quotes on Vision More quotes on Courage More quotes on Integrity More quotes on Preparation More quotes on Perseverance More quotes on The American Dream


Frank McCourt

Pulitzer Prize for Biography

My mother was always amused by my father. He had a laconic sense of humor, and she was a good storyteller too, because she'd go to the movies and we couldn't go. We didn't have the money. She'd come home and tell us the whole movie frame by frame. She went to see a movie once called Reap the Wild Wind with Paulette Goddard and John Wayne who was a bad guy in there, and Ray Milland, and she told us every line of that and we sat around the fire. I remember that fire, looking into the flames darting and leaping, and she's telling the story and we're having tea. So this is what we got from them. No television. There was no television. No. We had none of that. We had no electricity so we couldn't have anything. But there was always this stuff going on between us at home and in the streets and with the neighbors. That was rich.
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Frank McCourt

Pulitzer Prize for Biography

I remember reading James Baldwin talking about his mother fighting the cockroaches, trying to keep the kitchen clean, trying to keep things growing up in Harlem, and I said, "That's it. This man understands," because you read so little about poverty in American literature or any other literature. There was Dickens, I know, but Dickens -- I became suspicious of him because he had all those happy endings. I wish Oliver Twist had died of TB, or David Copperfield. That used to piss me off when they're all -- they all found out they were related to somebody in the Royal Family or some damn thing. So when I came across Baldwin and George Orwell's book Down and Out in Paris and London and another one called The Road to Wigan Pier, they had -- he knew. He knew the details, the stink of poverty.
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Frank McCourt

Pulitzer Prize for Biography

We were asked to write about a single thing, an object in our childhood. And the object that meant most to me that was so significant was the bed I slept in with my brothers, all four of us. This half acre of a bed with a disaster of a mattress, which collapsed in the middle. Everybody peed in the bed, so the spring was gone, and we tried to keep it together with bits of string, but after a while the acid from our bodies rotted the string. We'd get into bed and we'd roll into the middle, the four of us, and fight, "Get out of my way." Meanwhile the fleas were feasting on us. And if you had to go the john you went to a bucket and so on and came back. And we were -- we'd light a candle to get at the -- and we'd hold the candle and we'd go slapping at each other's legs and bodies killing the fleas. That was probably the most concrete image I brought away from my childhood and I wrote about that. The professor gave me an "A+." And I said, "Jesus, this is very strange." And then he says, "Please read this to the class." And I said, "No." "Would you?" "No." "Would you please?" I said, "No, I'd be ashamed." And he read it. He said, "Do you mind if I read it?" So he read it to the class and I think they sensed that I was the one who wrote it, and good looking girls started looking at me in an interested way, but I thought they'd be -- I thought they'd be disgusted. But I found myself being stalked leaving the class that day. "Is that how you grew up?" And it seemed -- I seemed to suddenly have become kind of an exotic in the class.
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Frank McCourt

Pulitzer Prize for Biography

I realized that I hadn't finished my story. I had brought it up to the age of 19, but what I wanted to show was, I think, the effects of that childhood, the poverty and the religion, and everything else on a young man coming to New York. What it does to your self-esteem, how I was damaged and also how I benefited from it. Because no matter what I say about the poverty, there was a richness. No matter what I said about the church, there was a richness in that religious experience. If we hadn't had the church, the architecture, which was Neo-Gothic or Neo-Byzantine -- I don't know what the hell it was. But there was the liturgy, the Latin, the ceremonial, the sense of mystery, the sense of awe, the sense of wonder, and the power, the art, the duplicated paintings of the stations of the cross, all of that.
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David McCullough

Two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography

Thornton Wilder was asked how he got the ideas for his books, and he said -- or his plays -- and he said, "I imagine a story that I would like to read, or see done on the stage. And if nobody has written that book or that play, I write it so that I can read it or I can see it on the stage." Well, I wanted to be able to read a really first-rate book about the incredible story behind the disaster at Johnstown in 1889, and I found there was no such book. But having read that interview I thought, "Well maybe you could write the book that you would like to read." And I am convinced that the only way we ever really learn anything is by doing it.
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David McCullough

Two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography

I love to read mysteries. I love Dickens -- who doesn't love Dickens? -- either on stage or movies, but more in the printed page. And, I love the theater. I saw Frank Fay in Harvey when the road company came to Pittsburgh. I saw Brando in Streetcar. I saw plays like Inherit the Wind, and I thought, "Look at the possibilities in history as drama!"
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Audra McDonald

Six Tony Awards

It's so interesting. In the performing arts you have to have thick, thick, thick skin, because of all the rejection you face on a daily basis, and the fact that work never lasts for very long. But you need thin, thin, thin skin in order to access all of your emotions and your creativity so that you can express it. You can't be dead inside. Otherwise you've got nothing to give. So it's a paradox, that we have to exist in both planes in order to do what we do. So there's, I guess, a certain sort of personality that's drawn to it. As a result, I think they're more open in the world too, because I think it's just being that, the personality that is drawn to the type of work that performing artists do. But I do think that they tend to be a little more open-minded, because they have to be. Maybe another reason is a lot of times they've got to walk in a lot of different shoes. I've had to play characters who I absolutely disagree with, as far as their politics, as far as their religion, and their stance on certain social issues, I completely disagree with them. But I have to go in and find who they are and get to their core, into their truth, and have absolute faith and believe in that, in order to portray it. So you have to walk in a lot of different shoes, in that you can't help but have your mind open as a result of that.
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