Many writers achieve fame by writing on subjects of astounding complexity such as psychology, life, death, philosophy but they remain unconnected with the lives of normal people. Many, on the other hand, create works of art and enduring legacies on matters which relate with the average person. One such famous writer was Erma Bombeck.
She became famous for her humorous accounts of the life of a housewife in the suburbs between the 1960’s to 1990’s, which was published as part of a column in the Dayton Herald. It became so popular that it was widely read in the US and the Canada. She also published 15 books, which became best sellers. But did you know that before she became a famous writer, she had literally failed her course in a college?
Bombeck was a television personality, writer, journalist. She was born in Ohio As Erma Louise Fiste to a hard working, lower middle class, working class family. She had a reasonably happy childhood and did not have to suffer privations; basic requirements for a domestic life were met with. She was fond of singing and dancing and was very attached to her half-sister, Thelma. From her childhood, she displayed a talent for language and studies and joined school earlier than the minimal age. She turned out to be an excellent student. After her father’s death, she shifted with her mother to her grabndmother’s house. During her childhood, her talent for singing and dancing got her a contract with the local radio station and she was a regular part of the children revue there for nearly eight years.
Her talent for writing and humour was apparent from her youth. She displayed great promise in school where she was started writing a humour column for her school magazine. Later she joined the Dayton Herald and started writing for it even during school itself.
Following her schooling, her early attempts at graduating failed. She failed many of her courses in the University of Ohio where she had originally registered. She was rejected by the university newspaper. She did not allow this to disappoint her. She left this and joined Dayton University. Here her talent in writing was praised by her teachers. She juggled this education with two part time jobs in PR and in an advertising agency and thus funded her own way through school. This was where she finally completed her graduation. She became a full fledged writer in the magazine after completing her graduation in 1949. In her personal life, she married Bill Bombeck. Her adoption of a child, led her to give up her journalistic career and the next ten years were dedicated to totally committed motherhood and homemakership. She also had two boys naturally in between. Her experiences of married life, being a homemaker and mother shaped her subsequent writing in the women’s column which she started the same year. This was the work which would lead to her fame.
What was special about her work?
She was always known for her sense of humour and sharp with. But her role as a humorist was shaped after she started a column on the life and experiences of a housewife in the suburbs of mid-western America. The column was laced with humourous description of the typical life experienced by a housewife. Through her column, she was able to connect with numersous housewives across the regions, could share their angst and their feelings. They found a voice who could bring out their frustrations, their side in a world which while appreciating the increasing role of women in the workplace, was also not giving much importance to the views of those who were stay at home mothers and housewives. She was able to get the emotional attention of the people by appealing to their sentiments.
Her work was initially restricted to the columns of the local news paper, but soon started increasing in popularity as it became syndicated. Her work soon became published in many news papers, nationwide. As her columns became popular, she started giving public lectures and talks. Her columns were compiled and published as the popular book “At Wit’s End” She forayed into speaking on the radio. She was thus a true all round humorist, both through her speeches and her writing. She got published in many reputed magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Readers’Digest, Teen magazine, Family Circle. Thus, her humourous writing appealed to a wide circle of people including mothers, wives, teenagers, husbands, who could relate to it. She also won contracts for various writing projects. One of this was the best-selling book, The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank and If Life is a bowl of Cherries, what I am doing in the pits.
As fame grew, her forays into television shows and programs. She got involved in many tv projects and regularly appeared on Good Morning America. In 1978, overwork and exhaustion was catching up and two of her shows failed. However, her work and reputation as a humorist remained as steady as ever.
She was also politically active and supported the Equal Rights Amendment Act Amendment in 1978 which supported women’s rights. She was a part of the Presidential Advisory Committee. This activisn m in favour of more rights, found disfavour with the conservatives. The consequence was some of the stores stopped selling her books.
What many may be unaware of was the fact, that with all the prodigious mental activity, creativity and intellectualism as well as her very active professional life, she was also fighting numerous health conditions including polycystic kidney disease from the age of 20 years. She had suffered from breast cancer and had a mastectomy and had to do daily dialysis. One would ask where did she derive the inspiration and motivation to lead such a fulfilling life and bring laughter into the lives of so many, inspite of the personal troubles? A truly courageous woman, who chose humor and laughter to fight her own troubles as well as bring joy to the world. She died on April 22 1996 following a kidney transplant operation.
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