Anna Quindlen, “The Last Word” essayist for Newsweek magazine for the past nine years, is giving up her column to make room for new and young writers. “I believe that many of our old ways of doing things are out of date, including some of our old ways of looking at, and reporting on, the world around us,” she wrote in her final column “Stepping Aside” (May 18, 2009). “Since the day he delivered his Inaugural Address, when I was 8 years old, people have been quoting the youthful John F. Kennedy saying that the torch had been passed to a new generation. But torches don't really get passed very much because people love to hold on to them.”
The moment of truth finally arrived for her when her eldest child, talking about the reluctance of her aging friends to retire, remarked, “You guys just won't go!”
Well, now she will.
I felt sad reading her adieu. She was one of my favorite columnists, not just because of her extraordinary writing but even more, for her taste in topics. They seemed so relevant and organic! Her perspective was unique. She was an activist whose tone was tempered by motherhood and acceptance of human frailties. She was as intolerant of the crimes of the powerful and the privileged as she was of the absurdities of a system that punished the hard-working and the dedicated.
In a column titled “Write and Wrong,” (July 12, 2008), she wrote of a veteran Indiana teacher who was placed on an 18-month suspension without pay by her school board. Her crime? She was trying to engage her struggling students with “Freedom Writers Diary,” a modern-day equivalent of “Huckleberry Finn.” If you are not outraged by her commentary and instructed by it, I say something is seriously wrong with you.
What was also remarkable was Quindlen’s consistency. Every two weeks (she alternated the column with George Will), she would hold forth on a thought and made a compelling story out of it. Each word was the right word, every sentence invested with a purpose. I don’t know if anyone at Newsweek edited her column but I find the idea far-fetched.
Quindlen is right, of course, in making room for the new. How will we discover fresh voices and powerful minds if aging baby boomers hold on to their jobs, however talented they may be?
But it will be difficult to replace Quindlen. Perhaps the best way her colleagues can pay homage to her is to take her cue and make room for the young as well. That includes her "co-host" George Will and many others whose professional longevity seem to be equaled only by Supreme Court justices.
As for the rest of us, thank you, Anna, for the gift of your insight and intelligence, your wisdom and humanity. You will be missed.