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She wanted to express her love for her dad. It took 300 pages of writing

March 9, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT
Kelly Corrigan’s dad always used to tell her she was going to write the “great American novel.” At age 36, she was diagnosed with cancer, and soon after, her father got the same bad news. The prognosis unleashed a panic in her, which she harnessed through her writing. Corrigan, a New York Times bestselling author, gives her Brief But Spectacular take on the power of words.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Now to another in our Brief But Spectacular series.

Tonight, we hear from Kelly Corrigan, a New York Times bestselling author and the host of the podcast “Exactly.”

Corrigan talks about how her family’s health struggles inspired her work.

KELLY CORRIGAN, Author: I do, do a word a day, and I love it.

My word of the day the other day on my e-mail was ripsnorter, that, like, a party could be a real ripsnorter. And that’s mine forever now, because I’m going to use that one.

My father was easily impressed by everyone. He sort of gave me the impression that the world was rooting for me. He always used to say, “Ah, lovey, you’re going to write the great American novel someday.”

And I thought, boy, that would be the thrill of a lifetime to hand him a book that I wrote.

I was 36 with two kids in diapers, and I had discovered a pretty big tumor in my breast. And so I went over to my friend’s house who is an OB-GYN. And I took my shirt off on her sofa in front of my daughters, who were 1 and 2. And she kind of felt me up on the sofa.

And she said, “You got to go — you got to go have it looked at tomorrow.”

The doctor said, “I am very concerned.”

And then I said, “Why are you concerned?”

And he said, “Because it looks like an explosion.”

Talk about words. Like, really? You want to say explosion to a 36-years-old who is, like, holding back tears? That’s not a good choice, Doctor.

And so I started chemotherapy right away. And then, while I was in chemotherapy, my father was diagnosed with cancer. His was more complex because of his age and because of some previous health issues. And so we were really told to have a great year, and not to have — quote, unquote — “outrageous expectations” for more.

I was in a panic, and I sort of sent that panicked energy on writing. I just felt like you can’t possibly let this man die without telling him, with sufficient emphasis, what it has been to be his kid.

If I were to try to say to him, God, you’re a great dad or you’re, like, the foundation of my life, he would say, “Oh, lovey, lovey, lovey,” and he would switch it back to me.

So, it really had to be a book, because I had to have uninterrupted space on the page to say, no, this is going to take more than a minute. This is going to take 300 pages.

There is no quantifying how thrilling it was to go on that ride with my dad. I mean, he came to readings. He signed books with me. He shook hands with people. It was the absolute dream come true of all dreams.

If nothing ever good ever happens to me again, I got more than I needed.

My name is Kelly Corrigan, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on the power of words.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You can watch additional episodes of our Brief But Spectacular series on our Web site, pbs.org/newshour/brief.

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