Why Mitch Albom wrote 'Tuesdays with Morrie'

Posted at 02/26/2014 1:23 PM
Bestselling author Mitch Albom. File Photo.

MANILA – Bestselling author Mitch Albom rose to fame in 1997 for his book “Tuesdays with Morrie,” which recounted the time he spent with his 78-year-old sociology professor.

Not surprisingly, “Tuesdays with Morrie” is also the book that is closest to his heart.

Recalling why he came up with the book, Albom said he only wanted to raise even a small amount for his sick professor, Morrie Schwartz, and that no one, including himself, thought that it would be such as success.

“I just wrote that to pay his (Morrie’s) medical bills. It wasn’t supposed to be a big book, nobody in America expected it to be a big book, the publisher didn’t expect it to be a big book. I was just trying to help pay his bills,” Albom said in an interview on the ANC program “Headstart” aired Thursday.

“Most people told me it’s a bad idea. The publishers refused to take it, [they said] it’s boring, it’s depressing [and] you’re a sports writer [so] you can’t write a book like that,” he added.

But Albom, who used to be a sports columnist, was not afraid to take the risk for the sake of his teacher.

“I just kept pushing and saying I want to do this, I want to help pay his bills. So we found one publisher three weeks before he died and they agreed to publish it. They only published 20,000 copies, which in America is a very small book, and they thought that would be it. And I thought that would be it.

“So when ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ started to grow and become this huge thing and it went on for years, nobody could’ve expected it.”

Since then, Albom has never looked back. As he wrote new books – his latest being “The First Phone Call from Heaven” – the bestselling author said he did not worry about how these would be received by the public.

“From that point forward, I didn’t know what to expect if I wrote a book. It was silly spending a lot of time worrying about it because you can put all this effort into trying to make it a hit, as you call it, and it would go the opposite direction,” he said.

What Morrie taught him

Albom said it was Schwartz who helped him “find a part of myself that could have been lost.”

“Morrie had this way of breaking people down because he was so honest and he wasn’t worried about being embarrassed by what he said. He asked questions like, ‘are you happy?’ Or ‘why do you think this is important?’ He really cut right through a lot of that hardened stuff, he allowed me to find a part of myself and that was a wonderful thing,” he said.

Albom said that through Schwartz, he was able to learn the importance of giving and making an impact on another person’s life.

“Morrie never read a page of ‘Tuesdays with Morrie.’ He never saw the cover, never held it in his hand, but he’s being studied even as we’re speaking, including here in the Philippines. You never know [that you will make a huge impact] by being kind to someone… Because that’s what happened, he was being kind to me. He invited me in while he was dying, to come see him every week. He was just being kind to an old student of his. I tried to do something, to be kind to him, to help pay his medical bills, so I did this book. One person read it and gave it to somebody, and gave it to somebody, and now here in the Philippines, we’re talking about it even if he’s not here.

“So I try to encourage people that this is what happens when you do something for other people. You might not ever know, you might die not knowing that it will have an effect on somebody,” he said.

Albom went on to share how a quote from his late professor has greatly touched his life.

“When Morrie said to me, ‘giving is living.’ I still remember him saying that because I asked him, ‘why are you so nice to everybody who comes in? Why do you always ask how they’re doing and what their problems are? You’re dying and you only have a certain amount of time left, why don’t you just let them talk to you about it?’ And he said, ‘because that’s taking and it’s reminding me that I’m dying. Giving makes me feel that I’m still living.’ And he said, ‘giving is living.’ I thought, wow… it really is true, especially when you get older.”

Applying the things he learned from Schwartz and from the other people he has met, Albom recently visited the country to help build libraries in typhoon-hit Tacloban.

He was also able to get the support of his fellow bestselling authors as they have committed to give books to these libraries.