Nora Ephron, a Writer Who Made Sure the Joke Was On Her

In the trailer for the film “Everything Is Copy,” Nora Ephron describes writers. 

“Writers are cannibals,” Ephron says. “They really are. And if you are friends with them and you say anything funny at dinner or anything good happens to you, you are in big trouble.”

Ephron knew from experience. Her writing career took off when, in the 1960s and 1970s, she wrote essays and celebrity profiles for Esquire magazine. 

No person or topic was untouchable for Ephron, including herself. The May 1, 1972, issue of Esquire carried an Ephron piece titled, “A Few Words About Breasts.” 

In it, Ephron shares her experience of having a smaller chest than many other women. The approach was typical Ephron, making herself the butt of a joke. 

As she later said, “When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh.”

“Writers are cannibals.” — Nora Ephron
Nicholas E. Barron © 2021

Nora Ephron Goes to Hollywood

In her writing, Ephron did what she knew best, tapping her personal life. Her first novel, Heartburn, is a fictionalized, humorous telling of her divorce from the Watergate-famous reporter Carl Bernstein after Bernstein had an affair.

A film of the same name starring Merryl Streep and Jack Nicholson hit theaters in 1986. 

“I highly recommend having Meryl Streep play you,” Ephron said. “If your husband is cheating on you with a carhop, get Meryl to play you. You will feel much better.”

Ephron wrote the script for “Heartburn,” but it wasn’t her first screenplay. Back in 1976, when she was still married to Bernstein, she worked with him on a screenplay for “All the President’s Men.” Unfortunately, the studio didn’t use the couple’s script. Still, the experience launched Ephron’s film career.

She wrote the script for the 1983 film “Silkwood,” earning Ephron her first Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. “Heartburn” followed, then Ephron wrote, “When Harry Met Sally.” 

The movie starred Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, and it cemented Ephron’s status as a Hollywood hitmaker. Ephron’s later films include “Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail,” and the 2009 movie “Julie & Julia.”

Ephron returned to publishing, though, in the 2000s. She produced two essay collections, one in 2006 and the other in 2010. Both became bestsellers.

True to form, Ephron had no qualms making herself the punchline. 

“Why do people write books that say it’s better to be older than to be younger? It’s not better,” she wrote in her 2006 collection, I Feel Bad About My Neck. “Even if you have all your marbles, you’re constantly reaching for the name of the person you met the day before yesterday.”

There’s one thing Ephron didn’t share with the public, though. In 2006, doctors diagnosed Ephron with a rare blood disorder. Initially, doctors gave the writer six months to live. But, instead, she made it six years, passing away in 2012.

“When you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh.”

Nora Ephron

She Made Life More Fun

Four years later, the film “Everything Is Copy,” aired on HBO. Directed by Ephron’s son, Jacob, the documentary focuses on Ephron’s life. The movie takes its title from a lesson that Ephron’s mother, Phoebe, shared with her four daughters. 

Phoebe was a writer. She told her daughters that “everything is copy,” meaning writers should tap all aspects of life in their work. The lesson stuck with Nora, whose writing delivered some of the most beloved films of the late twentieth century. 

Throughout “Everything Is Copy,” movie stars and directors talk about Ephron’s impact on their lives and work. Steven Spielberg relays that he sought Ephron’s approval by trying to make her laugh.

And Meryl Streep says of her friend, “Nora just looked at every situation and cocked her head and thought, ‘Hmmmm, how can I make this more fun?’”

This article originally appeared on Medium.

Seamus Heaney: A Rare Poet Who Received Two Exceptional Honors After His Death

On Nov. 29, 2019, family and friends of poet Seamus Heaney and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) representatives gathered in the Northern Ireland village of Bellaghy for a movie screening. 

The viewing occurred at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace, an art and literary center dedicated to Heaney’s honor. And the film was “Seamus Heaney and the Music of What Happens.”

The 90-minute documentary features Heaney’s friends and family sharing memories of the late poet. And they read some of his poetry, including Marie, Heaney’s wife of 48 years. In one moment, she shares love poems Heaney handwrote for her in a notebook. It was a Christmas present because he’d forgotten to buy her a gift. 

Included in the notebook is Heaney’s poem, “Scaffolding,” which Heaney published in his 1998 collection, Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966–1996. Today, the poem’s often read at many Irish weddings. 

Its final stanza reads:

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

It’s rare for a film to be about a poet, but Seamus Heaney was a unique poet.

He was born the oldest of nine children in a Catholic family with a long farming tradition near Bellaghy. Heaney, though, wasn’t cut out for agricultural activities. So instead, he went to college, graduating from Queens University in Belfast in 1961.

Five years later, Heaney published his first collection, Death of a Naturalist. The book’s poems portray the pastoral, Irish life of Heaney’s youth and that his ancestors practiced for generations. Readers and critics praised Death of a Naturalist, turning Heaney into a famous poet.

The Troubles, a three-decade-long conflict between factions for and against Northern Ireland staying in the United Kingdom, ignited in the late-1960s. The struggle captured Heaney’s attention. Two collections, 1972’s Wintering Out and 1975’s North, tackle the clash and related contemporary Northern Ireland issues.

Heaney was, by that time, the rare rock star poet. Irish critic Conor Cruise O’Brien called Heaney “the most important Irish poet since (W.B.) Yeats.” It was a comparison Heaney lived up to, as showed by his winning the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. 

He was the first Irish person to win since playwright Samuel Beckett received the award in 1969. And Heaney was the fourth Irish person to receive the honor. The first? William Butler Yeats.

Along with writing poetry, Heaney taught at Oxford and Harvard. There, he helped raise a new generation of poets. Alumni from Heaney’s Harvard days include The New Yorker’s poetry editor, Kevin Young, and former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. 

Two days after Heaney died in 2013, thousands of fans gathered for the All-Ireland semi-final football match. Before the game, they stood, applauded, and held a moment of silence in Heaney’s honor. 

Stadiums don’t usually clap for poets. And documentarians don’t often make movies about them, either.

But Seamus Heaney received both. The documentary “Seamus Heaney and the Music of What Happens” aired on BBC Two on Nov. 30, 2019. 

Heaney’s brother, Hugh, who now runs the family farm, appears in the film. At one moment in the movie, Hugh says, “I miss Seamus a lot.”

This article originally appeared on Medium.