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'My Last Eight Thousand Days': Lee Gutkind Reflects On Living Life Meaningfully As An Older Man

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Lee Gutkind founded the creative nonfiction program and MFA degree in the genre — the first in the world — at the University of Pittsburgh. He’s the publisher and editor of Creative Nonfiction magazine. He has also reported on wide-ranging issues, including robots and artificial intelligence, mental illness, organ transplants, baseball and motorcycle enthusiasts. His immersive journalism has taken him deep inside these worlds.

While Gutkind has been a long-time advocate of New Journalism and has played a critical role in helping develop and establish literary narrative nonfiction in both the marketplace and the academy, he’s been rather radio silent on his own personal story — until now. We talked to Lee Gutkind about his latest book, My Last Eight Thousand Days: An American Male in His Seventies.

Highlights from the Interview with Lee Gutkind

On the title of the book
I discovered through an article that I read by a guy from the MIT age lab that the American male pretty much lives in sequences of 8,000 days. And so the first 8,000 takes you around about until you're 21. And at 21, you make some changes and the next 8,000 days takes you to around the time when you want to begin to make more changes, you know, your second life, your second breath. And then the third 8,000 gets you to around 65. And from that point on, if you make it to 65, then you have approximately a 50% chance to make it all the way to around 85.

On researching and writing during the pandemic
I get out into the world and I talk to people with masks and I engage them. And even now we're all so lonely. We're all so isolated. If you reach out to someone who's walking the streets with six or eight feet of distance between them, you can still make an impact. And if you don't mind me saying so, I think that this is what writers are all about. This is why we write. We are writing because we are trying to connect with other people to make an impact, to make a change in their lives based upon our own experience. And so I'm still out there as much as I can — safe but ready to connect, both as a writer and as a human being.

On what he wants his readers to learn from reading this book
I think we have to be very aware and very proud of who we are. And I think that we must address the world and address the public in as strong and positive a way as possible. I try, when I walk the streets, I try to make sure that I stand up straight. There is this sense that the older person, kind of stoops over sometimes, drags his feet. And sometimes we have to because of health issues, but I do everything I can to collect myself and address the public in a positive, strong, and positive way, remembering all the time when I can what I am all about, what I have achieved, and what I can continue to achieve and do, even though I'm growing a little slower and obviously a little older. And I also, Yvette, think that it is okay for us.

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Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.