ON THE ROAD: Writer honors memory of Kuralt
By Scott Boyd
WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL BOOK REVIEWER
REMEMBERING CHARLES KURALT. By Ralph Grizzle. Kenilworth Media. 261 pages. $25.
Ralph Grizzle's first book, Remembering Charles Kuralt, began as a series of oral histories he conducted with Kuralt's friends, families and colleagues. From nearly 100 interviews, he's composed an enthralling rags-to-riches story that is both timeless and illuminating.
Charles Kuralt was born in Wilmington, but he was raised on a tobacco farm in Onslow County. The oldest of three children, Kuralt lived with his parents and grandparents in a farmhouse without electricity or indoor plumbing. As a child he was mesmerized when his grandfather told tales, and he often listened to his grandmother read travel stories and poems. These influences obviously supplied Kuralt with the roots of his narrative genius.
Because his ''father chased career opportunities,'' the Kuralt family moved around quite often when Charles was a young boy. They finally settled in Charlotte, where Charles' father became the welfare superintendent of Mecklenburg County. Charles was only 11, but he'd already begun to test his writing (and entrepreneurial) talents. Just before moving to Charlotte, he published The Garden Gazette, a neighborhood paper he ran off on a mimeograph machine and sold for 2 cents a copy.
After laying the foundation of his youth, Grizzle records Kuralt's education like a proud and eager father. He charts the development of Kuralt's writing skills through various writing competitions; he also outlines Kuralt's personal relationships, and describes the complications the one had on the other. He follows Kuralt through his successful years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the influential period he spent writing for the Charlotte News, and eventually his triumphant stretch with CBS.
In a style that may be best described as documentary, Grizzle's writing is candid and straightforward. A generous number of photographs keep the book visually interesting, and well-placed quotations from a variety of sources offer insight into Kuralt's brilliance and ambition.
Particularly interesting are accounts of how Kuralt worked. In one chapter, ''Waiting for Roger,'' Grizzle writes of an On the Road segment that featured a country family waiting for a soldier on his way home from the Vietnam War. If this type of human-interest story were filmed today, it would undoubtedly include a tearful reunion, breakfast the next morning, Roger's first night out and a dance with a high school sweetheart who never left town.
Instead, Kuralt filmed and interviewed the family and showed the surroundings in which Roger was raised. Not only did his viewers learn about Roger indirectly, but we also were exposed to a different region with different tastes and dialect. Kuralt and his film crew left within an hour -- before Roger's arrival -- leaving perhaps a curious yearning but instilling a timeless symbol.
Remembering Charles Kuralt is full of wonderful stories about a man who was passionate about genuine people on what seemed an endless search to find them. Grizzle has done an admirable job of honoring Kuralt in this well-paced and endearing tribute.
Boyd is a free-lance writer who lives in Greensboro.
Published: August 13, 2000
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