Ask Stacy Schiff & Jodi Kantor - October 24, 2012 discussion

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message 1: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Brown | 1 comments Mod
This is a thread for Jodi and Stacy to ask each other questions. I'm especially intrigued to hear how the authors feel their books relate to one another, despite the ocean of time that separates their subjects. Looking forward to the discussion!


message 2: by Stacy (new)

Stacy Schiff | 13 comments Would love to know how Jodi feels about her subject reading her words, something I have never had to contend with, preferring as I do the dead (and very dead).


message 3: by Jodi (new)

Jodi Kantor | 7 comments The first time I ever wrote about Michelle Obama, with my colleague Jeff Zeleny, we got what I have since come to think of as an Obama Reaction Report. As soon as the story was posted online, we heard, then-Senator Obama had raced online to see how his wife-- still new to public life-- had been portrayed. He thought the article was fine, we were told. (You can decide for yourself: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/18/us/...)

And so it's gone in the nearly six years I've covered the Obamas: I've heard a whole range of comments, almost always (but not always!) conveyed through aides, from it-was-fine to he-hated-that-line to he-thought-it-could-have-been-worse. The strangest moment came in January, when the first lady said on television that she hadn't read my book but complained about her portrayal anyway-- even though most book reviewers were calling her the quiet heroine of the book.

The revealing common denominator, I think, is the sentence we never hear: he/she/they loved the story. They never love the story, and that is because being written about in detail, being truly reported on, is a horrible experience. Imagine: a hardworking reporter at the New York Times, guided by some of the most perceptive and experienced editors on the planet, is devoting her professional life to chronicling your and your husband's ups, downs, marriage, faith, soft spots, shifts, and so much more, at the very moment you most crave a measure of protection and privacy. (My book is really about the Obamas' adjustment to the weird new world of the White House-- the behind-the-scenes tale of how these two people tackled the jobs of president and first lady, and how their personal stories in the White House help explain what happened in this administration.) Even if I do my job with judiciousness, fairness, sensitivity and respect-- and I certainly try to-- and even if I observe certain boundaries, it's a delicate, fraught relationship.

Stacy, to flip the question: what do you think Cleopatra would think of your book?


message 4: by Stacy (new)

Stacy Schiff | 13 comments Jodi wrote: "The first time I ever wrote about Michelle Obama, with my colleague Jeff Zeleny, we got what I have since come to think of as an Obama Reaction Report. As soon as the story was posted online, we he..."
As you point out, it's a delicate, fraught relationship. And there's a reason why biographers are usually depicted in fiction as stalkers or soul-stealers or burglars or bunglers. I hate to think what Cleopatra would think of my book, as I know what she did to people of whom she disapproved. Have never had to think about what I should leave out (or what an editor or lawyer asks me to), as you may have.


message 5: by Jodi (new)

Jodi Kantor | 7 comments Stacy, can we talk a bit about political theater? Cleopatra did it, the Obamas do it. It's a little hard to imagine your protagonist at a podium in Charlotte or Cleveland (draped in red, white and blue bunting, with little gold stars), or the Obamas worshipped as gods in an Alexandrian procession. But not impossible. Cleopatra advertised her fertility; the Obamas showcase the wholesomeness of their girls. As you watch the political season unfold, do you see any parallels between the ancient imagemaking and our modern equivalent?


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