Daniel James Brown, author of the number one New York Times bestseller, The Boys In The Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, will visit the University of Oregon on Thursday, April 16.
The bestseller tells the true story of the U.S. men’s eight-oar rowing team’s journey to the gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where Hitler himself was present.
The book was also named the Nonfiction Book of the Year for 2014 by the American Booksellers Association, and it has appeared on the L.A. Times bestseller list for nine consecutive months.
Brown, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, taught writing at San Jose State University and Stanford University before becoming an author. He now spends his time writing narrative nonfiction and resides in the Seattle, Washington area with his family.
Yesterday, the Emerald had the chance to ask Brown a few questions about his experience with this book and writing in general:
Emerald: What sparked your interest in this story?
Daniel James Brown: This story walked into my life one day about seven years ago. My neighbor, Judy, came to me and asked if I would talk to her dad. His name was Joe Rantz. He was in the last few months of his life, living under hospice care at Judy’s house. When I met him, he told me this extraordinary tale about how he had been abandoned by his parents during the Great Depression, and how later he had begun to row on the crew at the University of Washington and how that had begun to change his life. Then he told me how he and his crew mates had wound up rowing for an Olympic gold medal against a German boat in front of Hitler and all the top Nazis in Berlin in 1936. I was transfixed by the story and I knew right then and there that I wanted to write a book about it. It was one of the most inspirational things I had ever heard.
E: In total, from the moment you discovered the story to when the book was ready to be published, how long did it take you to research and write the book?
DJB: It took a total of about four-and-a-half years to do the research and writing. Out of that, about three years were research. My books are very, very research intensive. I spend a great deal of time trying to find the telling little details, the personal details that can make the story leap off the page and come to life.
E: Did you ever imagine it would be a number one New York Times bestseller? What does that feel like?
DJB: Not surprisingly, it feels pretty good. You know, the honest answer to the first part of your question is that from the time I first heard the story from Joe Rantz I knew it had the potential to become a bestseller. The basic, underlying story was that good. Right from the beginning I felt that I just had to do justice to it, try to capture the essence of what Joe had told me, and the rest of it would take care of itself.
E: What are some of the key things that helped you succeed as an author?
DJB: I think a lifetime of reading is the main thing. I was an English major in college, so of course I was exposed to a lot of great literature then. But since then I’ve continued to read widely, particularly reading the kinds of things I now like to write—what has come to be called “narrative nonfiction.” I actually study the works of other writers who write the same kinds of things. So, for instance, for The Boys in the Boat I very carefully studied Laura Hillenbrand’s two books—Seabiscuit and Unbroken—because I knew that they were good models for what I wanted my book to be. I marked up every page in both those books, studying the writing decisions she made as she unfolded her stories.
E: What advice would you give to young authors who hope to be published one day?
DJB: Well, it’s a bit of a cliche but it’s true—writers write. They don’t talk about writing, they don’t fantasize about writing, they don’t put it off and watch TV instead. They write. Even if what they write is not very good, they are moving forward, progressing, learning from mistakes, starting to get the feel of it. And by all means — this above all — when you aren’t writing, read. Read what you like to write.
Brown will be speaking at the Erb Memorial Union ballroom at 8:00 p.m., and will also host a Q&A and book signing after the lecture.
Tickets are available at the EMU box office. There is a limited amount of free students tickets and general admission is $10.
All of the proceeds from this event will benefit the UO Rowing Club.
UO Ticket Office: 1601 University St. (McArthur Court)
To order by phone: (541) 346-4363
To order online: tickets.uoregon.edu/event
Follow Hailey Geller on Twitter @hgeller30
Andrea Harvey contributed to the reporting of this story. Follow her on Twitter @andrearharvey