Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Anna Quindlen Makes Room for the Young

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 “I believe that many of our old ways of doing things are out of date, including some of our old ways of looking at, and reporting on, the world around us,” she wrote in her final column “Stepping Aside” (May 18, 2009).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.


vn said...

I work with VibrantNation.com, the online destination for women 50+, and thought you might be interested in a recent job offer for Ms. Quindlen by Stephen Reily, Founder & CEO, VibrantNation.com

A copy of the letter sent by Stephen Reily, founder and CEO of VibrantNation.com, is published below:

Dear Ms. Quindlen,

Like many Newsweek readers, I was stunned when I read your final LAST WORD column. I was even more surprised — and a bit concerned — as I considered your rationale for “Stepping Aside.” Don’t get me wrong; I respect your decision. Among the great advantages of living and working in the USA are our freedoms: of speech, of the press, of the choices we get to make in our personal and professional lives.

But as the founder of VibrantNation.com, a website for women age 50+, I’ve got a vested interest in ensuring the voices of this powerful, yet often ignored niche of the Boomer generation, continue to be heard.

Now, more than ever, our nation can benefit from the strong, wise and opinionated voices of the women who comprise the Vibrant Nation. In a world where women over 50 are too frequently pushed aside, written off and broadly ignored by marketers despite their exceptional purchasing power, stepping aside to create opportunity for a younger generation cannot be the best or only solution.

As you regularly do, you eloquently wrote in your farewell column about how, “Barack Obama hopscotched over an entire generation of politicians to reach the White House; he had not waited his turn because a majority of the American people decided that he ought not to do so. They agreed that the country needed change.”

I respectfully suggest that the reason Barack Obama became President Obama had little to do with his age and lots to do with the potent combination of better ideas and inspiration. He surrounded himself with advisors (younger and older) and combined the latest advances in communications technology with traditional, proven political campaign techniques. He called upon us to bring our best to make this a better world — regardless of one’s age or generation.

It is this combination of smart ideas, diverse experiences and well-stated opinions from our nation’s youngest and oldest citizens that truly represent the image and likeness of our nation and our world. Stepping aside is not an option, because we don’t believe you’ve said all you want or need to say.

Surely I’m not the only one who worries that your self-imposed retirement simply reinforces what the marketplace has always imposed on women over 50: silence and invisibility. Why else imply that it’s time for women like you to get out of the way? I am confident that women your age (and you’re only 56, for goodness’ sake) can make room for younger voices while continuing to share everything they’ve learned along the way, both in the broader arena and (as they always have done) with each other.

Please accept this formal offer to join the chorus of smart, passionate women over 50 as Contributing Editor for VibrantNation.com. We hope we can play some small role in helping you continue to share your important perspective on our world with other women like you who are eager to hear your voice…trust me, they’ll let you know how they feel about what you have to say.


Stephen Reily

Founder and CEO


HZR said...

I hope you can persuade Anna Quindlen to join VibrantNation.com. We need sane and powerful voices like Anna's to entrich the public discourse. And not all young columnists stepping in for retiring baby-boomers live up to the hype. Just read the stuff by the young and latest New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, and sigh!