In September of 1987, I was 14 years old and just starting my sophomore year in high school. I was also a movie critic, having produced, with the help of my parents, a self-published newsletter of movie reviews since the 8th grade. I sent a few issues of my newsletter to one of my heroes, Roger Ebert, never expecting to hear back. One day, I opened my P.O. Box and found a letter sent from the offices of the Chicago Sun-Times. It was a response from Ebert, apparently typed on his personal computer and proofed by hand. Tonight, I was relieved to find this letter stuffed in a box of mementos my mom gave me when I moved away from home.
In 1987, Ebert’s words of encouragement made a strong impression on me, a brainy fat kid who felt less comfortable in his skin than in the darkness of a movie theater. I didn’t grow up to be a movie critic (or a journalist or an actor). But in that year, I began to feel more confident in myself as a writer. I found my voice, and in time, felt less awkward in my body.
Revisiting this letter, I am struck by its personal touch. He took issue with my opinions on a couple of movies (let’s face it, he was right about Beverly Hills Cop 2), just as he would any colleague’s. Ebert was also self conscious enough to proofread his own letter, perhaps realizing that I would find his typos. He closed the letter with his signature, and a red rubber stamp of his iconic thumbs up. I took this as a final gesture of encouragement.
In the last few days, many of Ebert’s friends, colleagues and readers have been sharing stories that confirm what a decent, down-to-earth and altogether generous human being he was. This letter is my contribution to those testimonials. Now that it’s been digitized, scanned, blogged, and tweeted, I’ve tucked the letter back into my box of childhood memories. Thanks for writing, Roger.