This offering is a very special one for me, in several different
ways. In this “Lucky Seven” effort I am quite pleased to bring
you an interview with Mark Patinkin, a columnist that writes for The
the two big reasons that this particular article means a great
deal to me, the first is simply that Mark is… for lack of a better
description… the writer I wanted to be, and probably still hope
some day to approach. I’m not saying that from the concept of
working as a columnist for a newspaper (although if anyone does
like my writing and would like to talk… yes, I’m listening). Instead,
I admire the way he has, throughout his career, been able to present
a true-life scenario in his writing. Writers such as Dave Barry
are fantastically creative and possess tremendous talent. But
life isn’t always funny. Mark’s ability to blend humor with tragedy,
carefree with genuine depth, is something special. He connects
with his audience in a way that is far too rare these days. While
so many offer yet another example of “let me tell you why I’m
an expert” advice, Mark offers columns that make you feel like
you’re sitting in his living room enjoying an incredible conversation.
second major reason is my grandmother. About twenty-years ago
I was preparing to head off, out of state, to attend college.
Nana and I had a discussion about how we would stay in touch.
Every week, she sent me an envelope. Inside were special treasures…
neatly cut out of the pages of the daily paper… seven days of Calvin
and Hobbes and the columns of Mark Patinkin.
joined the staff of The Providence Journal in 1976.
A few years later, he was given the official title of columnist,
and he has been entertaining and informing readers ever since
with an insightful column.
efforts have been syndicated, and have appeared in print and on-line
editions across the country. He is blessed with a quick wit and
a sharp insight into the real world. A recent column (“Sign me
up for gray pride”) is a beautiful example of this. He hit upon
a humorous subject… gray hair. He utilized modern touchstones…
Taylor Hicks is involved. And he played off of wording that really
nailed some national discussions that are taking place in hushed
voices and serious tones across the country right now… using “gray
pride” as the rallying cry. (You
can use this link for the web site of
The Providence Journal. As they often update their pages
and archives, the best method for finding Mark’s stuff is to head
to the home page and use his name in a search on the site. You
may need to spread out your visits, as The Providence Journal
is currently using paid subscriptions for those visiting several
pages over a short period of time.)
has regularly touched upon some of the most timely and touching
stories, often with international, national and local implications.
He has provided material on famine in Africa. He has written
columns focusing on religion-based situations in many countries.
He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. And he has also teamed
up with Rhode Island legend Don Bousquet.
years ago, two editions of The Providence Journal
were delivered around the region each day. It was the evening
edition that arrived at our front door. Comics… sports… a Patinkin
column. That’s what I always looked for. Things
have changed over the years. The internet has arrived. The paper
only releases one print edition each day. Here, it is a privilege
to bring you the results of a few questions Mark was kind enough
~ ~ ~
I went around to some Rhode Islanders, that didn’t actually know
the truth, they would tell me you’re a native. From your columns
to The Rhode Island Dictionary, you’ve become one
of our own. Umm… not to ruin the surprise for those that don’t
know, but you’re from… gasp… Chicago. How does it feel to
have been re-located and accepted as part of the local landscape
(so to speak), especially since to my knowledge you’ve now spent
most of your life in Rhode Island?
found Rhode Island to be one of the most welcoming places
I’ve ever been to. It may sound a bit corny, but I really do think
it’s part of the state’s founding legacy of tolerance. I’ve now
spent most of my life here, but am fully aware it takes a few
generations to be considered an official Rhode Islander.
believe you joined The Providence Journal in 1976,
officially becoming a regular columnist a few years later. That
means we’re at the thirtieth anniversary. I know… not I think,
I know… The Providence Journal is
one of the best papers in the country. The writing is solid in
all areas, and the sports section is as good as any you can find.
Did you ever expect to reach three decades of writing for the
paper? And, how does it feel to be a part of this particular paper
as your home-publication?
a lot of young journalists, I figured I’d be here for a few years
and then move on, but I’ve grown to love both the state and the
paper. They’ve been good enough to give me the freedom of a column,
and I’ve long felt the goal in a career is to have the flexibility
to do the work you want at a place you respect; and I’ve been
lucky to have found that.
with that basic idea for one more… how have things changed over
the years? Obviously the internet and an on-line edition of the
paper is one area. The disappearance of separate morning and evening
editions is another. But for you personally, have there been many
differences in how you approach your writing, how it is published,
and the audience you reach?
I did start on typewriters and now write on computers, but writing
is writing. And the challenges newspapers face are now complex
and difficult, from the internet to cable TV. But again, writing
is writing. I write the same way, which is that the ideas should
come more from my gut than my head; meaning I am as likely to
write about how my sons are borderline imbeciles as about Iraq.
done something in your career that I don’t believe many people
are capable of, especially writers. You have not only managed
to tackle subjects and styles that offer a tremendous diversity
in content and theme, but you’ve done that while maintaining,
if not increasing, your credibility and your audience while presenting
such material. I admit it… when I was younger the humorous observations
and funny articles were the ones I loved. Because of that attachment
I had to your work, I read other material you presented… which
included observations from around the world. In particular I can
recall articles about Israel and religious violence. And
there have been plenty of stories from right down the street as
well… home grown tales of inspiration. Are you trying to achieve
a balance with the content you offer? Something along the good
and the bad and the we’re all in this together? Or, does one allow
you the ability to present the other?
long thought the best columns should be a mix of subjects and
styles. You can be a great political satirist, but if 3 columns
a week are political satire, that gets old. Some people ask why
I focus on lighter material when there are so many serious issues.
My hope is that people drawn to the lighter stuff will also occasionally
be there to read the more serious columns. But I don’t strive
for that mix for that reason. It’s just that I think a column
is supposed to truly reflect the columnist’s voice and sensibilities,
and like most people, the things I focus on in life range from
family matters to light matters to weighty matters, and I suppose
the column I write reflects that.
definitely want to mention the books. The latest one you’ve had
released is Up and Running. (Soon to be available
in paperback… check it out.) Other books have included The
Silent War, An African Journey and collections
with Don Bousquet. Those of us familiar with your writing over
the years also know that whether humorous (the Rhode Island-themed
books) or serious, these are important subjects to you. Tell us
a bit about how you approach writing a book-length effort… the
material and how it matters to you.
journalists “look” for book ideas because, well, we like the idea
of writing books, and also like the idea of fantasizing about
a best-seller. But unless you have the words “Harry'” and “Potter”
in your title, it’s unlikely you’re going to make much money off
a book. If you spent the same amount of hours at a job where you
say, “Do you want fries with that” you’d often make more money.
As far as Up and Running, I wasn't looking for a
book, just a column about a little boy who lost two legs but now
plays ice hockey. The story, though, was so compelling, I kept
interviewing the parents, then the doctors, then others until
it grew into a book. I am indeed thinking about other books now,
but don’t plan to quit my day job.
here’s a question that I think proves it’s a small world and that
there are connections in anything if you look hard enough for
them. In 1976, Mandy Patinkin (who I believe is related to you),
played the role of Mark in the play The Shadow Box.
If my information is correct, that play went on to be a Pulitzer-winning
production. You’ve been nominated for a Pulitzer. Coincidence?
(Alright… as I read that again… it probably is just me reaching
way too hard to find a connection. It probably is just a coincidence.)
a great guy, is my first cousin, and got far more talent than
I did, and has achieved, with reason, far, far, far more prominence.
But I get to say I’m related to him and live off that. When my
wife hears me sing in the shower, she is convinced I couldn’t
possibly be related to Mandy.
want to finish this up with a bit of what’s next, but I’d like
to do that by offering two questions (bringing us to eight… hopefully
you’ll understand). First, these days I don’t need the evening
edition of the paper to tell me the important events of the day
that have occurred since I saw the morning edition. I can head
over to my computer and find out the instant the winning run was
scored in the ball game. And yet, something has definitely been
lost from those days when the arrival of the paper meant an evening
of reading the comics, cutting out articles for school assignments,
and learning what was happening down the street and in neighboring
towns. Is the world really that much smaller now? And is it all
change for the better?
I do miss the age of evening newspapers. I worry, too, about the
future of newspapers. It’s not just the competition from the internet
and cable news. It’s that people once only had to deal with one
monthly phone bill and one newspaper bill for their communications
budget. Now it’s two land lines, three cell phones, digital cable,
high speed internet, three AOL accounts, annual virus protection,
texting packages, music downloads... suddenly, the communications
budget of the average family is thousands a year instead of hundreds,
so newspapers are often dropped for financial reasons. So far,
there’s no good model for people being widely willing to pay for
newspapers online. So it’s a tough challenge. But it’s also the
golden age of free expression with the media having to adjust
to a more open market of ideas and competitors. That will be good
for society. But I won’t lie – I miss the good old day.
second, what can we expect to see from you in the near future?
Are there any projects you’d like us to know about… or any efforts
that you’d like us to be aware of?
thinking of a novel about the angst of a 50-something married
man. This could be a fast way to waste a year, given how few new
novels from new authors are successful. Maybe I’ll put the words
Harry and Potter in the title.
~ ~ ~
want to offer a special thank you to Mark Patinkin for participating
in this “Lucky Seven” offering.
is a regular columnist for The Providence Journal. You
may have to register with the site to access his articles, but
you’ll be happy you did. The Providence Journal is one
of the best papers in the country. Below are direct links to his
books at Amazon.com (you can also search for other sources of
his published material) and the home page of The Providence