Welcome to my second author’s birthday post! Buzz Bissinger was born on November 1, 1954 in new York City. He is, I think, most well-know for his book Friday Night Lights, a piece of literary journalism that explores the impact of high school football in Odessa, Texas in 1988. The book was eventually turned into a movie and a television show.
I just started A Prayer for the City for my literary journalism class, and so far the book does not disappoint. Bissinger narrates Ed Randall’s first term as mayor of Philadelphia, a city on the brink of failure when he took office in 1992. To write the book, Bissinger was granted exclusive access to both the mayor and the mayor’s chief of staff, David Cohen, during the entire term. Bissinger does a lot with that access — he has a keen eye for detail and characterization that really brings the conflicts Randall is dealing with to life.
Early in the book, Bissinger is describing Cohen as he packs up his office at a law firm and moves into his new chief-of-staff office at the capitol. On the very first page of the book Bissinger states that Cohen is brilliant. I immediately thought, “How lazy Buzz Bissinger — you’re supposed to show not tell! That’s the first rule of narrative journalism!”
How silly of me, because right after that Bissinger goes into a whole biography of Cohen that illustrated, beyond a doubt, just how brilliant Cohen actually is. My favorite was this example, from the night of Randall’s inauguration party:
Amid the pulsating swell of the music, one such job seeker came forward to ask Cohen whether he had recieved his covering letter and resume. Cohen listend to the name thoughtfully and then politely offered acknowledgement: “Buff-colored paper with a signature on the left-hand side.”
It had been buff-colored paper. The signature had been on the left side. How could anyone have remembered that? Why would anyone have remembered that? “That’s right,” said the man with a strange look on his face. Cohen gave a modest shrug. After all, why wouldn’t he have remembered the resume?
There had been only four thousand of them.
Bissinger does this throughout the section of the book I’ve read — giving you something that looks like opinion, then backing it up with a litany of well-crafted and well-written examples. I’m looking forward to going back to A Prayer for the City very soon. But without further ado…
Happy Birthday, Buzz Bissinger!