Thursday, January 7, 2010

Everything I Know I Learned from Paul Revere

This week marks the 276th birthday of Paul Revere. So it is probably fitting that it also marks the debut of this blog about biographies. I've written about Paul Revere more than any other subject--to date one book, two magazine articles, and two one-act plays. And I can't tell you the number of biographies I've read about the man, for both adults and children, some endlessly fascinating, others not so much.

Just what is it that makes Mr. Revere so interesting, at least to me? Yes, the word hero comes to mind. Revere was certainly that. He was the colonists' go-to man when they needed a message passed along fast. The sound of his galloping hoofbeats was a well known one in the towns between Boston and Philadelphia.

But it's that midnight ride that really thrills us, isn't it? Thanks to the Longfellow poem it's a story we all know well. At least we think we do. The way I learned it, Paul asked a friend to signal to him how the British were coming by hanging a light in the tower of the North Church: one if by land and two if by sea. On spotting the signal he tore across the land shouting, "The Bristish are coming! The British are coming!" He was the one who alerted the colonists and lit the fuse that became the Revolutionary War.

Right? Wrong! No disrespect to Longfellow, but the version we've all come to "know" is all wet. The lanterns were a signal not to Revere but from him. He never cried "The British are coming." Why would he? He was a British subject, too. The call was "The Regulars are out!" And he was not the only one out that night alerting the Minutemen. His was one voice among several.

And there is what I've found so intriguing about the Paul Revere story. How much fun is it to do the research and find that what I thought I knew has been turned on its head? It's just plain cool to peel away all that much-loved fiction to find the real man waiting beneath. The only thing cooler is knowing that it's my responsibility with everything I write to get the story straight. Telling the real story of Paul Revere goes right to the heart of what it means to be a biographer.

So here's to the biographer as truth-teller. In this blog I'll be telling a few more truths about what it means to write biography for kids. We'll celebrate a few more birthdays and explore some more fascinating people, some living, some gone. Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you I'm a fan of post grunge/metal music and I can't guarantee that some of my enthusiasm won't spill over into this blog.

Should keep things interesting.

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