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March 2, 2013

Author to talk about journey with savant son

TRAVERSE CITY — Pulitzer Prize-winning author Buzz Bissinger didn’t pick an easy topic when he decided to take his son on a cross-country trip and write a book about it.

His son, Zach, now 29, is a savant who suffered trace brain damage caused by lack of oxygen during his 13-week-premature birth.

The mini-van trip from Philadelphia to Los Angeles that occurred five years ago took two weeks. The book took four years.

Bissinger is the National Writers Series' guest author Tuesday evening at the City Opera House and will talk about his 2012 memoir, Father Days: A Journey into the Mind and Heart of My Extraordinary Son. He also is the author of five highly acclaimed nonfiction books: Friday Night Lights, A Prayer for the City, Three Nights in August, Shooting Stars, and Father’s Day.

The former journalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer received a Pulitzer Prize for his investigative reporting of a story about corruption in the Philadelphia court system.

Bissinger initially thought it might take 18 months to write Father’s Day, but he put it aside half-way through the first draft.

“It was lousy,” he said. “That kind of writing is close to the bone, and my son doesn’t have the defense mechanism to tell me he didn’t want something in the book. I worked really hard to get it right. I tried to make it poignant, funny and relied heavily on dialogue.”

He also wanted the book to be honest about Zach’s reality and his own. Reviewers believe he succeeded. Their descriptions of his honesty ranged from “remarkable,” “wrenching” and “brutal,” yet also “funny and painful with something that will resonate for every parent.”

Bissinger said reader reaction has been strong.

“A lot has been extremely positive, and a lot has come from the parents of special needs kids who thanked me for being honest,” he said. “I didn’t want to sugarcoat it. I knew that people would have strong opinions about the book and that’s how writers should write. Too much writing is soft and needs to take chances.”

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