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Zachary Sklar
The Work
The Work: A Jigsaw Memoir by Zachary Sklar In this moving non-fiction collection, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sklar (JFK, with Oliver Stone) leads readers on an unpredictable personal journey through seven decades of our collective history and politics. Sklar’s wide-ranging essays take us from the hysteria and fear of the 1950s Hollywood blacklist to his collaboration with writer-director Oliver Stone on the screenplay of JFK and the glamour of the Academy Awards. From the Sixties counter culture of California to the Black Gullah-Geechee culture of a South Carolina Sea Island cut off from mainstream America. From the Japanese internment camps of World War II to the coffee fields of 1980s war-torn Nicaragua. From thoroughbred horses running at Saratoga Race Course to a mangy street dog looking for love in the zócalo of Oaxaca, Mexico. At every stop on this memorable journey, Sklar draws vivid portraits of unforgettable brave souls doing the hard work to create a more peaceful, just, and loving world.

Quarter Finalist

Plot/Idea: 10 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 10 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 9.75 out of 10


Plot/Idea: Sklar, in memoir fashion, recounts historical events with a clear eye for storytelling, drawing out underlying themes that have shaped the United States and, in some ways, the world at large. The concepts are passionate, intensely personal, and speak to larger societal issues throughout.

Prose: With smooth, unfaltering prose, Sklar crafts surprising suspense and transports readers into his experiences, with firsthand views of the momentous circumstances and people he has been exposed to in his life. The writing is emotional and polished, and Sklar masterfully sets the tone throughout.

Originality: Sklar’s expert prose and ability to plop readers right into the middle of noteworthy historical events make this memoir unforgettable. 

Character/Execution: This is an accomplished memoir that speaks to both personal and collective themes. Sklar is a master at rendering memorable characters and situations, and the ease with which he shapes stories into living, breathing events is phenomenal. 

Date Submitted: October 05, 2023

Drawing from Allen Ginsberg’s lines about the work of "eas[ing] the pain of living,” journalist and screenwriter Sklar creates a sensitive, illuminating portrait of his life through loving accounts of the people who have truly moved and changed him, such as his playwright and novelist father, who endured fear and paranoia during the McCarthyite anti-Communist blacklist in Hollywood. In each of the incisive essays that chart his personal and political development, plus those of the U.S., Sklar recounts learning from people who have eased the pain of himself and others, something he strived to learn to do himself as he faced travails of his own, like having his credibility as a journalist questioned after co-writing the script for Oliver Stone’s JFK.

Sklar touchingly relates his friendships with investigative reporter William A. Reuben, a colorful raconteur, editor, and horse racing enthusiast devoted to proving to the world Alger Hiss was railroaded by Richard Nixon and his cronies, and with Nyoko, a Japanese-American woman whose parents were imprisoned by the U.S. government during World War II. Sklar charts the lifelong scar this left on the family, resulting in tragedy. Also affecting is his account of the transformative experience of serving as a student volunteer on Daufuskie Island, off the coast of South Carolina, in the late 1960s, when the unique Gullah Geechee culture was already in peril from outsider developers. As the younger Sklar questions what good he can achieve, he also faces immediate crises, like burying a friend who dies of exposure. It’s a harrowing yet intimate account of life and death.

Sklar's prose is dramatic without being florid, and he is careful, as he observes crucial relationships and surveys a fractious half century of American history, to aim his focus on his subjects instead of himself. Instead, he offers exquisite testimony of hard-won victories achieved when we take the time to care for each other.

Takeaway: A writer’s moving personal and political history and a call to ease each other’s pain.

Comparable Titles: Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road, June Jordan’s Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A