Archive for July 27th, 2008

Writing Roots: People First

Christina Katz By Christina Katz

I credit Bertrand Goldberg for helping me learn that writing is about people, not words.

Bertrand Goldberg (1913-1997) remains an icon in American architecture even after his death. He understood that form should follow function in the most humanitarian way. He is best known for designing Marina City, a building complex that soars in two gigantic, corn-cob-shaped cylinders above the Chicago River and has been featured in movies including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Blues Brothers.

According to Wikipedia, “Goldberg was known for innovative structural solutions to complex problems, particularly for residential, institutional, and industrial design projects.”

Goldberg also designed and built Raymond Hilliard Homes, a lesser-known public housing project in Chicago. Completed close to the same time as Marina City, this project put the best ideas from his private structure to use for the public good. When I interviewed Goldberg, I was touched that it was this project–not the one that had brought him the most press– that he was most excited about.

He discussed the way the shape of each unit’s interior could allow a single mother simultaneously make dinner and keep an eye on her kids in the living room. I tear up still, remembering how much he cared about that particular aspect of the form following the function. He wanted to use his own genius for the benefit of others in need.

I interviewed Goldberg just a few years before his death. Since I was a fiction MFA student, I was completely out of my comfort zone. I’d been selected by one of my professors to write an article for the journalism department at Columbia College Chicago. I arrived at his home in Chicago’s Gold Coast as a starving writing student in my twenties, bumbling with my hand-held tape recorder, nervous, and not wanting my inexperience to show–which of course it did. Quite frankly, I was a mess. That day was my first real interview. And that’s when my education in journalism began.

When the final article was published in Chicago Arts and Communications Magazine, it became abundantly clear that I had no idea how to be a decent journalist. I still wince when I re-read the article. But I learned a lesson that was worth every bit of the discomfort of doing something new for the first time.

The day I interviewed Bertrand Goldberg, one of the greatest architects of the 20th century, is the day I realized that writing was not about me, locked away from the world in a room, composing genius on paper, but about the impact my words would ultimately have on others. From that day forward, the fantasy that had previously loomed so large — the same one that has become such a writer stereotype: Tortured Writer Seeks Greatness Through Creation of Literary Masterpiece — became obsolete.

And that was a good thing.

Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, is working on her second book for Writer’s Digest Books, Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform (now available for pre-order at Amazon!). She has also written over two hundred articles for magazines, newspapers, and online publications and has appeared on Good Morning America. Christina is a popular writing instructor who has taught hundreds of writers over the past seven years. She blogs daily at The Writer Mama Riffs and is publisher and editor of two zines, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama. More at

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July 2008

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