SUNDANCE Robert Redford declared it an honor to introduce Jimmy Carter as a speaker at Sundance's author series Saturday, but the former president said a service by Redford before his 1976 election permanently indebted him to the actor.
Carter appeared at the resort to speak about his latest book and first work of fiction, "The Hornet's Nest," a historical novel set in the Deep South during the Revolutionary War. But he took a few moments at the beginning of his speech to briefly reminisce about his history with Redford.
"I was probably president because of Bob Redford," Carter said. "You can imagine the feeling of a Georgia peanut farmer who is scheduled to have three televised debates with the incumbent president of the United States: I didn't know what in the world I was going to do.
"And here came Robert Redford to Georgia, and he had a 16 mm film of the Nixon-Kennedy debates, and he sat on our living room floor and we played the debate over and over, and he gave me advice."
Carter said that advice gave him the boost he needed to defeat Ford.
"So since I won by a fairly narrow margin, I think it's fair to say that all the things that I did as president, good or bad, Bob Redford has a share in them," he joked.
Redford voiced approval for at least one of Carter's presidential efforts: wilderness preservation.
"From a personal standpoint, we're all very lucky to be standing in the shadow of what is protected as wilderness," he said. "Had that not been fathered in the Alaskan Land Act, which was President Carter's doing, I don't know that the place that I call my home would have been protected."
Redford lauded Carter's proactive life following his defeat in 1980, noting his efforts with Habitat for Humanity and the Carter Center work that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and his prolific writing.
Carter called his latest book a labor of love, and said he'd spent seven years crafting it, writing three other non-fiction books simultaneously. He worked with creative writing professors at Emery University, where he teaches, to learn the art of storytelling, which he said didn't come naturally.
"It was very difficult for me to change from non-fiction to fiction, because I have a tendency to be very succinct, and I try to make sure that everything is exactly correct," Carter said. "So to create fictional characters was very difficult for me."
Carter researched the Revolutionary War period meticulously to create his setting and characters, drawing from 50 different sources for historical information.
"I studied in detail things like: How did they travel, how did they make shoes, what was the relationship between Georgia and South Carolina and the use of slaves?" he said.
The Georgian said he chose the Revolutionary War period because of the lack of literature focusing on it.
"If you think back, there've been hundreds of books written about the Civil War, and almost as many now written about the Vietnam War and the second World War," Carter said. "But practically none have been written about the Revolutionary War."
Carter called the Revolutionary War "by far the most vicious war," because of the lack of geographical division among those who fought it.
"One by one, literally, Americans violated their oath of allegiance to the king," he said. "Sometimes, say, the oldest son would decide to join the revolutionaries, and the next week, he would be fighting against his own father."
Carter said the evolution of his characters was very interesting, and that sometimes they even surprised him.
"I came in and told my wife I was shocked because two of my characters had sex out of wedlock," he said, laughing. "I was somewhat disillusioned about my main character."
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