Today is the birthday of American writer Laura Hillenbrand (1967)

The author of two best-selling books of nonfiction: Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001) and Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010).Hillenbrand grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, and spent her childhood riding horses on the family farm, a stone cottage on the banks of the Potomac River that was once used as a hospital during the battle of Antietam. She had to drop out of Kenyon College after suffering her first bout with chronic fatigue syndrome and was confined to bed for the next 18 months. She first published an article about Seabiscuit, the legendary racehorse, in American Heritage magazine (2003). Seabiscuit was small, knobby-kneed, and lazy, and his rider was a half-blind failed prizefighter, but he became the winningest racehorse in history during the 1930s, a symbol of resilience and hope for millions of Americans during the Great Depression. Her agent shopped the proposal to an editor at Random House. The editor wasn’t interested, at first, since books about horses tended to be boring, and the main characters were all dead, but he signed Hillenbrand. She delivered the manuscript 17 months later. The editor read it and sent her an email, which read, “In terms of pure narrative, this is the most satisfying story I have every encountered in my eleven years as an editor. Reading it wasn’t even work; it was pleasure.” Seabiscuit became a New York Times best-seller. The film version starred Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges (2003). Because of her chronic fatigue syndrome, Hillenbrand rarely leaves her house, so she’s had to adjust her research methods. She buys vintage newspapers on eBay and does interviews with her subjects by phone. She also listens to a lot of historical audio books, which she says makes her a better writer. “Good writing has a musical quality to it, a mathematical quality, a balance and a rhythm. You can feel that much better when it’s read aloud.” It was while reading old articles about Seabiscuit that Hillenbrand came across a story about running phenomenon Louis Zamperini, whose bombardier plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 1943. He spent 47 days adrift on a raft, eating seabirds, until he and his companion were captured. He spent the next two years being tortured in three different Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. Hillenbrand’s book about Zamperini, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010) has been on the New York Times best-seller list for over four years. Angelina Jolie directed the film version (2014). About writing, Hillenbrand says: “I feel so fully alive when I’m really into a story. I feel like all my faculties are engaged, and this is where I’m meant to be. It’s probably what a racehorse feels like when it runs. This is what it’s meant to do, what its body is meant to do. This is what my mind is meant to do.”
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®
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