Foote's Feat

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Foote’s Feat
Marian Burkhart

     n play after play, Horton Foote, who
     died in March at the age of ninety-two,
     made the quotidian extraordinary. He
     wrote more than sixty plays, including
the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Young Man
from Atlanta. He is perhaps most widely known
as the Oscar-winning screenwriter of To Kill
a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies, and as an
Oscar nominee for The Trip to Bountiful, which
was based on his play of the same title.
    I was so deeply impressed when I encountered his work in the        people manifest that aroused in him the greatest awe of all, a per-
1980s that I wrote an essay for Commonweal, “Horton Foote’s             spective that allowed him to present not only their flaws but also
Many Roads Home” (February 26, 1988). Foote found it satisfy-           what gave them hope, even when they had to confront appall-
ingly accurate, wrote me a kind letter, and we became friends. He       ing odds. He did so by avoiding the grandiose “big speeches” in
expressed enthusiasm for the piece to others, helping it become         so many plays and movies that attempt to present the “voice of
known well enough that in 2004 I was invited to speak at Baylor         the people.” Instead, his voices are those of real people, shaped
University as part of the Horton Foote Festival.                        by the America in which they actually live.
    The appeal of Foote’s work begins with its dialogue, which             It is Foote’s unflinching awareness of the real that will ensure
captures the idiom of his homeland, southeast Texas, so precise-        his legacy as a playwright who was both subtle and profound. His
ly and memorably that you come away from his productions ex-            characters persevere, “go on and on and on,” as they often urge
pecting everyone to speak that way. He is hilariously funny, ach-       others to do. They overcome failure and disappointment. They
ingly sad, always persuasive, and never sentimental. Though he          deal with the inevitability of death. At the very least, they show
was considered by some to be a goody-goody who recorded only            us something about getting by, and at their best, they show us
the ac
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Description: Though he was considered by some to be a goody-goody who recorded only the acts of nice people, that assessment missed the undercurrent of vice and violence present in all his plays. What requires attention now is Foote's particular gift for discerning the awesome qualities of ordinary human beings and what awakens awe in them.
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