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For the week of Jan. 5 through Jan. 11, 2000

Soup creator ladles nourishment at The Liberty

Mark Victor Hansen speaks at Company of Fools fund-raiser

Express Staff Writer

In a recorded message at the Newport Beach, Calif., office of Mark Victor Hansen, co-creator of the best-selling and never ending Chicken Soup for the Soul Series, a voice announces that Hansen "will catapult you beyond your wildest dreams."

It’s easy to snicker at the claim, but not when you consider what Hansen—and co-creator Jack Canfield—have accomplished with their wildly successful series of inspirational short stories.

Today, the series has 33 million copies in print with 21 titles. Whenever a new title is published—and there are more on the way, like the Chicken Soup for the Expectant Mother—it soars to the tops of most best-seller lists. The masses, it seems, can’t get enough Chicken Soup.

Company of Fools presents Hansen at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey on Friday at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. The talk, entitled "Chicken Soup for the Fool: A Family Feast," is a benefit for Company of Fools arts in education programs.

In a telephone interview, Hansen said he will reveal to audiences "how to get what they want."

Hansen had a tough time getting what he wanted five years ago. He and Canfield began compiling the stories they heard while working as motivational speakers and seminar leaders. But when they took the compilation to publishers, 33 turned it down, calling the collection of inspirational tales from random people "sappy" and "too nicey-nice," Hansen said.

Health Communications, Inc. finally gave the two compilers a deal for the book, a book that promised its readers it would "stir your emotions, encourage you to raise your consciousness and reaffirm your commitment to live life to your fullest."

Whatever the stories are doing, they have struck a nerve.

"I’m in as much awe of the stories as the readers are," Hansen said. "They bring you back to the depth of why you’re alive and why life’s meaningful and they encourage heart-to-heart dialogue between people."

The targets of Soup books are wide-ranging. There are books for teens’ souls, singles’ souls, cat and dog lovers’ souls and souls at work. They rejected one recently, however, for NASCAR souls.

Every day Hansen said his company, Chicken Soup for the Soul Enterprises, Inc., receives about 180 written submissions. They are sorted by carefully selected co-authors, who are chosen for their expertise in a subject area. Then a panel of at least 40 people is set up to read the stories. They rate the stories on a scale of 1 to 10. Only 9s and 10s make it to Hansen and Canfield.

"The stories have to hit you viscerally," Hansen said. "They must cause positive goose bumps, cause the heart to swell up, bring about a change of perception, and make you weak in the knees. That kind of storytelling has been neglected by the publishing world. We’re in a zone all by ourselves, except for Hallmark."

Hansen, a hot commodity on the lecture circuit, who is known as "The Master Motivator," is donating his time to Company of Fools. Danielle Kennedy, Company of Fools board president, is a friend of Hansen’s and had a story published in an early Chicken Soup book.

But the company’s interest in Hansen goes beyond just Kennedy’s friendship.

"Mark is a ‘yes-man,’" said Company of Fools managing director Denise Simone. "People want to be affirmed, to hear the yes. We hear so often why we ‘should not’ or that ‘there’s no way it can be done.’ Mark truly seeks the ‘yes.’ And his donation of time is a pretty remarkable affirmation for our company."

For the kind of generosity that he brings to Company of Fools, Hansen was recently chosen as one of 10 recipients of the Horatio Alger Award. The list of recipients includes eight other philanthropic CEOs of major companies and actor Tom Selleck.

According to the Virginia-based Horatio Alger Association, the award is given annually to "community leaders who demonstrate individual initiative and a commitment to excellence—as exemplified by remarkable achievements accomplished through honesty, hard work, self-reliance and perseverance."

"I don’t know that I’m a superstar," said Hansen, when asked how he felt about receiving the Alger award. The award is named after the 19th century author of more than 100 boys’ books, in which the heroes rise from rags to riches through virtue and hard work. "I feel like I’m only just beginning."

Indeed, Hansen and Canfield are putting together the next Soup venture, a stage production of Soup stories that will tour the nation and, Hansen said, be "as big as Phantom of the Opera."

Tickets for the talk, at $10 for adults and $5 for children under 18, are available at Chapter One in Ketchum. For more information, call 788-6520.


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Copyright 2000 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.