Norman Corwin has been working longer than many people will live.
Corwin, currently the Annenberg Writer in Residence, began his career in journalism at age 17. On May 3, Corwin will celebrate his 100th birthday.
About 65 people, including faculty members, former students and fans, gathered at Annenberg on Thursday to mark the occasion. It was only fitting, as Corwin said Annenberg is where he has had some of his best experiences.
“I’ve been at USC for 37 years; the entire experience has been my favorite memory,” Corwin said. “Teaching is my favorite achievement.”
Corwin began his career as a print journalist. After 10 years in the newspaper industry, Corwin emerged as a celebrated writer, director and producer for radio on CBS, hosting shows including “We Hold These Truths” and “On a Note of Triumph.”
“Corwin has been one of the great writers over the last 100 years,” said Geoff Cowan, an Annenberg professor and former dean of the school. “He elevated the level of discourse within this school and throughout the country.”
Friends, colleagues and former students shared memories of Corwin at the birthday party Thursday, swapping stories and discussing how Corwin affected their lives.
Hershl Hartman, the education director for the Sholem Community, a secular Jewish community in Los Angeles, said Corwin had a profound impact on him.
“I am now 80. He has inspired me since I was 14,” Hartman said. “For those few who know him personally, he brought radio from its sea of soap into a pantheon of American poetry.”
Hartman recounted a memory he had of Corwin as a teenager.
“In 1946, when I was 16, we turned on the radio to hear a broadcast hosted by the New York Herald Tribune,” said Hartman. “By the third word, my parents said, ‘that’s Paul Robeson speaking.’ By the second sentence, I said, ‘Those are Corwin’s words.’”
Joe Saltzman, an Annenberg professor, had a lot to share about his friendship with Corwin.
“I can see him directing one radio script after another,” Saltzman said. “But Corwin’s words are so unique that you know it’s him speaking after one sentence.”
Saltzman said he was responsible for asking Corwin to teach at USC. After Corwin attended the school, he said, he never looked back.
In his time at USC, Corwin had a profound impact on a number of students.
Lucy Lee, an Annenberg graduate in 1988 and one of Corwin’s students, was among the many students affected by Corwin.
“I represent the thousands of students that Norman has touched,” she said. “I’ve been his student all my life. He was one of the 10 people at my parents’ wedding.”
Lee remarked that his teaching style was unique.
“The power of praising students for what they do well is so potent. Norman is a master of celebrating what you do well,” she said.
Lee said people like Corwin will always be in demand.
“What’s missing from today’s journalism is the world context,” Lee said. “Norman is a student of the world. I think we lost some of that — to be observant of the world. That’s great journalism, and that’s Norman.”
Now, Lee works with Corwin as a member of the USC faculty.
“It has been my greatest privilege to be his colleague,” Lee said. “It’s been a great thrill for me.”
At the conclusion of the reception, Cowan read a letter from President Steven B. Sample congratulating Corwin on his lifelong accomplishments and contribution to the school.
“I was impressed,” Corwin said to the guests at the end of the reception, remarking on the comments from the speakers. “I couldn’t have written any of that better myself.”
Annenberg Dean Ernest Wilson delivered his own remarks to Corwin, summing up the impact of his legacy.
“Corwin’s work has always been associated with something we take seriously here at this school — great writing,” Wilson said. “Your insightful body of work has been ensured into the American consciousness. You are truly a literary treasure.”