Author Mitch Albom on power of belief and who he wants to call him from heaven

eshaw@islandpacket.com

February 8, 2014 

  • 2014 SAVANNAH BOOK FESTIVAL

    To buy tickets for the opening, keynote or closing addresses and for a detailed schedule of author appearances Feb. 15, go to www.savannahbookfestival.org.

  • 6 p.m. Feb. 13: Opening address by Scott Turow at Trustees Theater in Savannah. Cost is $15.

  • 6 p.m. Feb. 14: Keynote address by Mitch Albom at Trustees Theater in Savannah. Cost is $15.

  • 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Feb. 15: 2014 Savannah Book Festival at Telfair and Wright squares in Savannah. Event is free and open to the public.

  • 3 p.m. Feb. 16: Closing address by Dr. Eben Alexander at Trustees Theater in Savannah. Cost is $15.

Award-winning author Mitch Albom has never been to Savannah.

In all his travels and book tours, the distinguished "Tuesdays with Morrie" writer has yet to make a stop in the Hostess City.

"I've been in every state in the country, but for whatever reason, I've never gotten there. So it's on my bucket list for places to go," Albom said.

His bucket list is about to get an item checked off.

Albom will be a featured author at the Savannah Book Festival this year. He will deliver the festival's keynote address at 6 p.m. Feb. 14, in which he will discuss his latest novel, "The First Phone Call From Heaven."

The book, like many of Albom's previous works, deals with the belief, or disbelief, in the afterlife.

"The First Phone Call From Heaven" tells the story of a small town in Michigan that one day begins receiving phone calls from the great beyond. The discovery becomes a frenzy as thousands flock to the town in hopes that they, too, might get a miracle call from lost ones in heaven. Some go on blind faith, others demand proof, but everyone must confront the question, "What if the end isn't the end?"

"I've always been fascinated with what people can do when they honestly believe in something," Albom said. "For me -- and one of the points of the book -- is that if you believe a miracle happens to you, that's enough. You're not obligated to prove it to everybody."

The interest in belief, faith and wanting to know what happens when we die is something Albom has been cultivating throughout his life.

"All throughout my childhood, I was constantly being made aware of how life can change dramatically with one absence," Albom said. "It grew into interest in the big picture of life and how fragile it is."

Albom grew up hearing the story about how his grandfather died suddenly when his mother was only 16. Albom's uncle Eddie once told him about an out-of-body experience he had during open heart surgery, when, close to death, he floated above the operating table and saw his loved ones waiting at the end of it. The story inspired Albom to write "The Five People You Meet In Heaven."

Perhaps most inspiring of all, however, was the experience Albom had dealing with the slow death of his friend and mentor Morrie Schwartz. Albom chronicled their time together in "Tuesdays With Morrie," which was at first just a way to help Morrie pay his medical bills, but has since become the most popular memoir of all time.

If Albom were to receive a phone call from anyone in heaven, Morrie would be at the top of the list, he said.

"There's probably not a day that goes by that I don't mention him in some way. And now there's not a day that goes by that somebody in the world is not reading that book somewhere ... so I'd like to talk to him about what his view is on it. What does he think about all this? Because he died before I could ever show him a page of the book."

Albom said that he does believe that Morrie and his loved ones are in heaven, and that there is something after this world. But when he writes about it, it is as a writer, nothing more.

"Heaven is a very personal topic. Who am I to say? I don't think we just go in the ground and that's the end of it. But I also think it's beyond our comprehension," Albom said. When he writes about heaven, he is doing it with a human being's imagination.

"It has to be beyond anything we can imagine right now, but we keep trying to put it in our own terms," he said. "It's almost like imagining that a baby in the womb, who has only ever known the womb, can somehow imagine the whole world as it's going to be once he gets into it. How? How would you know?"

Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.

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