The Writing Life, Chapter 17: Star Struck
One of the pleasures of a long career in journalism is the opportunity to interview interesting people. During my years at the International Reading Association, I interviewed noted academics and researchers, award-winning classroom teachers, and U.S. government officials.
Some of my favorite interviews were with children’s authors, including top names such as Tomie dePaola, Katherine Paterson, Lois Lowry, Jon Scieszka, Jerry Pinkney, and Marc Brown, to name just a few. Although these people are celebrities in the children’s book field, I found most of them to be humble and genuinely interested in helping children through their books.
On occasion, I’ve interviewed more widely known celebrities. When he spoke at the IRA Annual Convention in 2010, I talked to former U.S. Vice President Al Gore about his book Our Choice: How We Can Solve the Climate Crisis. I found him to be passionate, knowledgeable, and personable. He even knew that I was an author myself and commented on my children’s books, which surprised me.
Some years ago, I interviewed country superstar and ardent literacy supporter Dolly Parton about her Imagination Library project, through which young children receive a personal library of free books. Her sincere interest in helping children develop an early love of reading showed clearly throughout our conversation. I always get a bit nervous when interviewing famous people, but she was so down-to-earth that I soon felt at ease.
Let me tell you how my latest celebrity interview came about. Last month while browsing through magazines at the Newark Public Library, I read Rolling Stone’s Hot List for 2011. One of the featured people was Aubrey Plaza, who plays April Ludgate on the popular TV show Parks and Recreation. When I read that she grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, I realized that an article about her might make a nice feature for Delaware Today magazine. I discovered that they had done a brief piece about her a couple of years ago, but I thought a follow-up might be appropriate now that she is even more famous.
When I pitched the idea to Delaware Today’s editor, Maria Hess, she said she was very interested—if I could get an interview. We both realized that might be challenging. I did a little research, found Aubrey Plaza’s management company, called them, and was a bit surprised to have a telephone interview scheduled within a week.
While Aubrey’s April Ludgate character thrives on sarcastic wit and deadpan humor, Aubrey herself was a delightful interviewee—warm and personable. She spoke with great fondness about growing up in Delaware and shared a few of her humorous exploits at Ursuline Academy, where she considered herself a bit of a class clown. I’m working on developing the article now and will keep you posted on when and where it will appear.
Random Writing Thought of the Week: Doing the interview with Aubrey Plaza reminded me of two things I have learned in dealing with famous people: 1) Celebrities may not be as inaccessible as you might think. You won’t know until you try. 2) Famous people (at least the ones I’ve encountered) are people first and famous second. They are much more like us regular folks than we realize.