A Wizard of Words
Max Byrd, son of Allan and Rubye Byrd, was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1942. His father was an accountant for the Veteran's Administration. The Byrd family transferred to Dublin in 1954 and lived in a home on the hospital grounds. Max, like most of the kids of his day rode his bicycle to school, a fairly long ride to the old high school on North Calhoun Street. While Max was in school at Dublin, he was a member of the Latin Club, and in his final year as a junior in Dublin, he represented
the school in the boy's declamation competition. He was a member of the debate team and garnered a medal at the state competition. Nearly fifty years later, he still retains vivid memories of "Board of Education," a large wooden paddle wielded by the very stern principal, D.R. Davis. Max and most every one of his era remember the iconic, stern, but excellent, math teacher, Woodrow Rumble. "The class I remember best from Dublin High was Latin. "The study of Latin set me on the right track for learning to write English," Byrd said. In his junior year, Max was president of the Latin Club.
While he was at Harvard, Max developed a life long friendship with classmate and fellow writer, Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, among many other best selling novels. Byrd owes a lot to Crichton, whom he considers as a writer "who arranges facts into fiction better than just anybody else." Chrichton, who began writing his novels at Harvard, encouraged Max to write. He admired his friend's dedication, energy and willingness to take risks. Gore Vidal
influenced Byrd in his historic fiction novels. Max owes a personal debt to Oakley Hall, the founder of the Squaw Valley Writers Conference, an organization now headed by Max. "I wish I could say that I was influenced by John Updike," Byrd said, "but he is so wonderful a writer of English prose that I can only look up and marvel."
Dr. Byrd crossed the long-standing crevice between Harvard and the nation's third oldest university, Yale University, where he was offered a position as Associate Professor. Max was awarded the Younger Humanist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and an award from the A. Whitney Griswold Fund for the academic year 1974-75. His first book, Visits to Bedlam: Madness and Literature in the Eighteenth Century, won him many accolades. In 1976, Byrd edited and published Daniel DeFoe, A Collection of Critical Essays.
In 1976, after six years as an associate professor at Yale, Max made the life altering decision to leave the hallowed halls of the Ivy League and seek his life's goals out west in California, the native home of his wife. While serving as an associate professor at the University of California at Davis, Max began publishing books on English literature. His second work, London Transformed: Images of the City in the Eighteenth Century, a study of English writers he dedicated to Walter Jackson Bate, who inspired him as a beginning writer. From 1977 to 1988, he served as editor of Eighteenth Century Studies. In 1985, Dr. Byrd wrote and compiled Tristram Shandy, a scholarly analysis of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne.
In 1981, Max Byrd was promoted to a full professorship at UC Davis. He taught 18th-century British literature and occasionally freshman English. Byrd struggled with the concept of teaching college students to write fiction. He sees the greatest obstacle to teaching writing is that so many students don't read anything. It was in that same year when Max began to publish a divergent genre of books than his usual scholarly, literary writings. He began writing detective novels back at Yale in 1973. His first published novel, California Thriller, was the first in a series of Mike Haller mysteries. The Private Eye Writers of America awarded him their first ever Shamus award for the Best Paperback Original Novel.
During his years of active writing, Max spent five or six mornings and evenings writing seeking to write a minimum of three to five pages. Byrd sees writing as a lonely business and one which you have to be obsessed to succeed.
In 2004, Max Byrd quit teaching. He told an interviewer with the Sacramento Bee that "retired" seemed so old and that he planned to keep on writing. Max is a frequent reviewer of history books for the New York Times. He also writes for American Heritage magazine and the Woodrow Wilson Quarterly. He plans to be the Carnochan Lecturer in Humanities at Stanford University next spring.
P.S. Max, if you read this, you are always welcome to come back. The library and the theater are still there. And yes, the football games are still as exciting as they were when you left. I hope you gave me a good grade on this article.