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  Editor's Note
     
   

Mangled HandsIt is well known that Holy Cross regularly turns out top-notch doctors, lawyers and CEOs. What is less well known is the College's history of producing writers. We can trace this tradition at least as far back as Arthur Somers Roche '03 who started writing short stories as soon as he left the Hill and, before long, saw his fiction published in The Saturday Evening Post. Roche eventually penned a series of thrillers, sometimes under the name "Eric Mackaye," with titles like Loot, Plunder, Uneasy Street and Conspiracy. The Purple kept tabs on Roche, noting in 1921, that Loot "swept him into a fortune overnight." 

Roche's stories may have been appearing on newsstands at the same time Rev. Neil Boyton, S.J., '08 was placing his fiction in Boy's Life and Benziger Magazine. Boyton made the jump to novels with Cobra Island and followed his debut with Mangled Hands, titles that seem somewhat less wholesome than the "Holy Cross Boys" series of adventure novels written by Irving T. McDonald '15 or the slice-of-life vignettes of John A. McNulty '17. 

McNulty wrote for The New Yorker for over 20 years, producing a popular series of articles about "life among the bartenders, taxi drivers, horse players and other habitues" of New York's Third Avenue. McNulty's book, The Jackpot, was filmed as a successful Jimmy Stewart movie in 1950. 

More recently, Holy Cross writers have been gaining national prominence. Barry Reed '49 has written four popular legal thrillers, the first of which, The Verdict, was made into an Academy Award-nominated film of 1983. Phil Nobile '64 has written or edited books on subjects ranging from "the new eroticism" to the Smithsonian's Enola Gay exhibit. John L'Heureux '56 has received critical acclaim for such novels as The Shrine at Altamira and A Woman Run Mad. Donald Spoto '63 has written over 15 books, including biographies of Alfred Hitchcock, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. The story collection Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones '72 was widely praised upon publication. Recent years have seen published novels by Jan David Blais '59, Robert E. Wall '60, Jay Daly '63, Martin Keating '63 and Patrick Creevy '70. 

One of the College's best-known writers is the subject of our cover story. I first heard Joe McGinniss' name during a late-night bull session on Carlin 3. It was the kind of legend all would-be writers gravitate toward: the brash young journalist who, overnight, sprang from obscurity to The New York Times bestseller list. With his debut effort, The Selling of the President 1968, McGinniss '64 became the youngest author-with the exception of Anne Frank-to hit the number one spot on that august list. The book, one of the first accounts of how image makers and media consultants wage politics, was hailed as "a masterpiece" by Murray Kempton and "a lulu" by Jimmy Breslin. And overnight, its author was transformed into a celebrity, touring the lecture circuit and being asked to appear on the Carson, Griffin, and Cavett shows. 

McGinniss' books have earned him both a loyal readership and a steady stream of controversy. But through all the hype, the writer has tried to stay true to his calling, letting his curiosity and passions determine his subject matter. In 1996, he walked away from a $1.75 million dollar advance for a book on the O.J. Simpson murder case. He has written a novel, an account of his 18 months wandering around Alaska, "true crime" narratives, a biography of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and, most recently, a tale born of his love for Italian soccer, The Miracle of Castel di Sangro.  

When asked about fellow Holy Cross writers, McGinniss immediately begins to rave over Billy Collins '63. McGinniss joins John Updike and Richard Howard in praising the poet. Collins, a frequent guest on National Public Radio, recently received acclaim from The New York Times: "It can be argued that . Mr. Collins is the most popular poet in America." With three books selling an amazing 50,000 copies, he ranks with Robert Frost and Walt Whitman among the top-selling poetry titles at Amazon.com. 

Although McGinniss and Collins ran with different crowds during their years on the Hill, both began their writing careers in College publications. McGinniss served as assistant sports editor and editor in chief of The Crusader, while The Purple published Collins' first poems. 

You'll find a sample of Collins' recent work on Page 25 of this issue, in our retrospective of The Purple. While not all of that magazine's contributors went on to writing careers, more than a few have remained faithful to the avocation. And the tradition that began with "the Acroama Circle" in 1894 is still alive today. The next McGinniss or Collins may well be squirreled away at this moment, in the basement of Dinand or at a residence hall desk, scratching away in a notebook, dreaming of bestseller lists and book tours. 

 

Jack O'Connell

 

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