I have the type of life about which people often said to me “You ought to write a book and be on Oprah.” Now that Oprah’s ending her show this week, I never will be.
Not that I wanted to be. People went on Oprah because they were famous, because they were selling something or were speaking out for change, or because they had done something courageous. I’m not in any of those categories. I simply married and raised some challenging individuals. I just lived my life, played the hand I was dealt. Nobody died or was redeemed (or resurrected). Nothing miraculous compared to the average Oprah noncelebrity guest – like losing 100 pounds (and getting a car from Oprah).
But early on, I actually had a chance to be on the first Oprah’s Book Club panel. I had a heads up from the author of the first book she chose – The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard, released in 1996. I interviewed Mitchard for a regional parenting magazine just after she received the news of her book being chosen, and she advised me to investigate the new concept.
I wrote to the Oprah show after reading the book, which I could not put down even for Fourth of July fireworks. I must have done a pretty good job of selling it and myself because one evening around suppertime a woman from the Oprah show called to interview me for possibly being on the first book club panel. I proceeded to talk myself out of a place on the panel, pointing out that I, too, was a writer, and I lived in the same town as Mitchard whom I knew slightly from professional functions. So why would they want me? My viewpoint was already skewed toward supporting a local writer making it big.
Of course I had no idea how significant Oprah’s book blessings would turn out to be for authors. It was a benediction by a Higher Power for Mitchard, who was a young widow with three children in desperate need of a more secure income. She became wealthy as a result of Oprah’s pick. The book was made into a movie with Michelle Pfeiffer. She wrote more books, including the follow-up to Deep End of the Ocean, No Time to Say Goodbye. She married her handsome handyman and became the mother of nine children. Her identity was stolen by a relative and she lost all her money. She wrote more books and made more money. Then she lost all her money in a Ponzi scheme. The last thing I read about her was that when a company called her to say that someone applied for a job there under her name, she had to explain that it was in fact Jacquelyn Mitchard herself, who needed a job to support her family.
Sounds like a story for the Oprah show. But that’s over.
For me, out of all the guests she brought on to tell their inspiring stories, the celebrities who revealed more than they intended, the has-beens (Sarah Ferguson) who needed a forum to say they were sorry, the best thing Oprah did was to get people in this country to read books.
She has been a leader, inspiring viewers to action. But most of all, she is a great teacher. She taught us that a good book has no ending. It lives on. And so will Oprah in the lives of her students, here in the United States, in Africa, and all over the world.
Judy Kirkwood didn’t love Oprah as a TV personality, but she respects her as a teacher of lifelong learning.
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