Author of the week
Actor Henry Winkler has turned a onetime source of humiliation into a rewarding side gig, said Michel Martin in NPR.org. Long before he became famous on Happy Days as high school dropout Arthur Fonzarelli, the New York City native struggled badly in school. Later, at acting auditions, he regularly masked his reading difficulties by improvising. “When they said, ‘Well, you’re not doing what’s written on the page,’ I said, ‘I’m giving you the essence of the character,’” he recalls. Only when he was 31, and a TV star, did he learn he was dyslexic. But embarrassment lingered. During a later lull in his career, his agent suggested he write a book for children with similar difficulties. “I said, ‘I can’t do that, I’m stupid,’” Winkler says. An introduction to writer Lin Oliver changed his mind, and together they hatched Hank Zipzer, the hero of a now flourishing series.
Hank is a grade-school class clown who probably doesn’t consider dyslexia his defining feature. “We set out to write comedies that happen to be about a kid who had a challenge, but they were funny first,” Winkler says. The Zipzer books also impart an important message, and Winkler says he’s prouder of the books than of winning an Emmy last year for his work on the HBO series Barry. “It never dawned on me,” he explains, “that I would have my name on a book.” Today, he has it on 29, the last of which closes with young Hank lying in bed thinking, “‘I’m going to be somebody.’” Winkler wants every kid to feel the same. “It touches me,” he says, “because it’s very easy for me at 73 to become 8 and remember what it was like.” ■
February 22, 2019 THE WEEK