Some people pursue a creative endeavor like writing at a very early age, starting to string words together for prose as young as they can. But when Henry Morgenthau III first started taking poetry classes at The Writers Center in Bethesda while in his early 90s, he proved that the craft is ageless.
Now 100, Morgenthau, a retired award-winning documentary maker who comes from a well-known political Jewish family, is celebrating the recent release of his first book of poetry, “A Sunday In Purgatory.”
“Why I waited so long to get started writing, I don’t know,” Morgenthau, a World War II veteran resident of Washington, D.C., said at a recent reading-and-release event at the University of Baltimore Student Center attended by approximately 40 people. “But [the book] covers some of the aspects that I think about and older people think about.”
The book’s publisher, the Baltimore-based Passager Books, publishes the work of writers who are 50 and older. Passager started as a biannual literary journal in 1990, and evolved to also produce books in 2006.
“Passager’s mission has been consistent: finding older writers that deserve to reach an audience,” said Jonathan Shorr, a publicist with the nonprofit press.
Morgenthau’s work has appeared in Passager’s journal four times, and has now finally reached the point for a manuscript.
“It was kind of put together behind my back,” said Morgenthau with a grin, “I don’t think I would ever have done it, but I’m glad it happened.”
Alongside his century of watching world politics, technology and culture advance, Morgenthau has quite a family legacy to draw upon. His grandfather, Henry Morgenthau Sr., served as the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during World War I. And his father, Henry Morgenthau Jr., helped craft the New Deal as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s treasury secretary. Both play a role in the “younger” Morgenthau’s writing.
While describing some of his poems as “an awful lot of name-dropping,” Morgenthau – who once met Albert Einstein, and was in attendance at FDR’s “Day of Infamy” speech — stressed that he doesn’t write just to highlight his family’s historical accomplishments.
“I do write about important moments, but I think my primary drive comes from establishing my own identity,” he said during a question-and-answer segment.
At the end of the program, Morgenthau had one remaining point to make. Describing himself as “piece of rusty machinery manufactured in World War I,” he admitted that global changes and advancements are “picking up speed.” After witnessing the rise of radio, television, the internet and so much more, he heeds us all to stay unified and kind, not isolated and divisive.
“A Sunday In Purgatory,” is out now from Passager Books at http://www.passagerbooks.com/.
William Linker is a Jmore editorial staff intern.
Photo by Steve Ruark
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