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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight: Fergus M. Bordewich

author Fergus Bordewich and an image of his book Klan War

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? Writing has been at the core of my life for more than fifty years. It’s like breathing. It’s my primary way of making sense of the world and most particularly of history, which has been the subject of most of my books.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? I write every day whether I feel like it or not. I’m intolerant of distractions. I don’t leave my desk until I feel that I’ve made progress, however modest, and have given myself a good start for the next day.

What is your favorite time to write? My best hours are from mid-morning to late afternoon. Years ago, I used to write late into the night, but no more. When my daughter was a child, I had to retrain myself to get in sync with the rest of the world.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? In grad school, I got to know the great 1930s screenwriter Samson Rafaelson, who was in his nineties. He said to me, “You only begin to really write when you’ve painted yourself into a corner and don’t know how to get out of it. That’s when you have to use your imagination.” It’s true, at least in my experience.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? Understanding history is more urgent than ever. We can no longer afford to gild the past with facile, romanticized mythology. Despite political pushback in some quarters, I feel that most Americans are more willing than ever to come to grips with morally challenging truths about the nation’s past. It’s an exciting time to be a historian.

Fergus M. Bordewich’s Klan War: Ulysses S. Grant and the Battle to Save Reconstruction is out now with Knopf.