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Author Of 'Forrest Gump,' Winston Groom, Dies At 77

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Writer Winston Groom has died. He wrote the novel "Forrest Gump," which of course eventually became the Oscar-winning hit movie starring Tom Hanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FORREST GUMP")

TOM HANKS: (As Forrest Gump) My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get.

CORNISH: Winston Groom died Wednesday in Fairhope, Ala., where he was remembered by the city's mayor as well as the state's governor. He was 77 years old. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: The Forrest Gump from the book is bigger, burlier, a little rougher around the edges than Tom Hanks in the movie. In the audio book, listen to the way the character reckons with his namesake, the notorious Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIOBOOK, "FORREST GUMP")

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: (Reading) Mama always said we was kin to General Forrest's family some way. And he was a great man, she'd say, except when he started up the Ku Klux Klan after the war was over. And even my grandmama say they's a bunch of no-goods.

LIMBONG: What's played for a brief joke in the movie is, in the book, an almost William Faulkner-like metaphor for Southern history and familial baggage.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIOBOOK, "FORREST GUMP")

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: (Reading) So whatever ails old General Forrest done, starting up that Klan thing was not a good idea. Any idiot could tell you that.

LIMBONG: Author Winston Groom was born in Washington, D.C., but he was raised in Mobile, Ala. After college, he joined the Army and did a year in Vietnam, as he told NPR in 2016.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

WINSTON GROOM: It was like being in a year-long car wreck. It's traumatic.

LIMBONG: Groom then worked as a reporter for a while but always wanted to be a novelist, so he mined his time in Vietnam for inspiration for his first novel, "Better Times Than These." "Forrest Gump" was published in 1986 and sold well enough until, of course, the movie came out and made the book a bestseller. Groom tried fiction a few more times, but his heart really wasn't in it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROOM: After the commercial success of "Forrest Gump," I didn't really have any ideas that really grabbed me.

LIMBONG: So he wrote histories of wars, generals and Alabama football. But he returned to fiction nearly two decades later with "El Paso," another book in which the main character interacts and reckons with history.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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