DOUG MOEBack in 1995, when Jim Maraniss took a sabbatical from teaching Spanish literature at Amherst College in Massachusetts, he came back to Madison and spent a year writing columns for The Capital Times.

Maraniss' dad, Elliott, was a former editor of the paper. Jim, a 1962 Madison West graduate, wrote evocative pieces about Madison institutions like Mickie's Dairy Bar and Forest Hill Cemetery. He recalled Madison originals like Louise Marston, the society columnist, and Gretchen Schoff, a West High English teacher who helped him appreciate music.

But Jim's best column may have been about his brother, David, then a Washington Post reporter who two years earlier had won a Pulitzer Prize for his writing about Bill Clinton.

Jim recalled that when David won the Pulitzer, one of Jim's colleagues at Amherst approached him and said, "Doesn't that make you feel inadequate?"

"My brother doesn't make me feel inadequate," Jim wrote. "My brother and I are one. How about that?"

Five years later, back at Amherst, an amazing thing happened. Jim won his own Pulitzer.

An opera, "Life Is a Dream" — never performed — for which he had written the libretto in 1978 finally had a concert version of one act performed in Boston in January 2000. In April of that year, Maraniss and the composer, Lewis Spratlan, won the Pulitzer for music.

But even the Pulitzer wasn't enough to get "Life Is a Dream" a full staging — until last weekend, 32 years after the work was completed.

On July 24, Jim Maraniss was in New Mexico for what the New York Times called the "absurdly overdue premiere" of "Life Is a Dream" at the Santa Fe Opera.

Times reviewer Anthony Tommasini loved the opera and called Maraniss' libretto "elegantly poetic."

"I am so happy for Jim!" David Maraniss wrote in an e-mail.

But, due to what Jim called "an amazing coincidence," David couldn't be in New Mexico last weekend at his brother's side because he was in Great Barrington, Mass., for the out-of-town opening of the Broadway-bound "Lombardi," a play by Eric Simonson based on David's 1999 bestselling Vince Lombardi biography.

Audiences at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center loved "Lombardi," which opens this fall on Broadway with Dan Lauria in the title role.

Not bad for a pair of brothers from Madison: Pulitzer Prizes, and, now, concurrent successful openings on stages a country apart.

On Wednesday, back home in Massachusetts, Jim Maraniss was marveling at the 32 years it took to bring "Life Is a Dream" fully realized to the stage.

He said that in the 1970s, he was sharing a house in Amherst with Lewis Spratlan, who was teaching music at the college. One day Spratlan asked if Maraniss knew Calderon de la Barca's play "Life Is a Dream." Maraniss sure did; he'd written a dissertation on the Spanish playwright.

The New Haven Opera had commissioned a new work by Spratlan, and he asked Maraniss, "Can you write me a libretto?"

They stuck pretty close to the play. "I gave him text," Maraniss said, "and he would write the music."

They finished in 1978, but Maraniss recalled, "The opera company went bust."

Thirty-two years later, the wait was worth it. Maraniss called the Santa Fe production "wonderful." He added, "Not to sound pompous, but I feel now like I've been involved in something of lasting significance."

Newspaper columns rarely have lasting significance, but I'm partial to that one Jim Maraniss wrote about his little brother David back in 1995.

The brothers had their differences but what Jim remembered best was the day in 1962 when David came running up as his older brother walked home from West High.

It was the corner of Regent and Spooner. David was huffing and puffing. Jim asked, "What's wrong?"

Nothing, David said. "The letter came today! From Harvard! You got in!"

Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or dmoe@madison.com. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. 

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