To Know as We Are Known: David Crumm's Five Tips for Interviewing
Being interviewed can be a daunting experience.
Sometimes the interviewer isn’t prepared, hasn’t read your book, or is just looking for a way to stir up controversy to increase ratings.
But sometimes an interviewer has not only prepared but has lived inside your book in such a way that he or she has actually climbed inside your skin. That experience transforms talking into spiritual transcendence . . . reminiscent of those powerful words Parker Palmer used in his book title: To Know as We Are Known.
So it was with my interview with David Crumm. He interviewed me a week ago and published the interview in his wonderful web-based magazine Read The Spirit.
The experience of talking to David was so exciting that I wanted to tell you more about him here.
BACKGROUND in his own words:
I began working as a journalist while still an undergraduate at the University of Michigan in the mid 1970s, then worked at newspapers in Pontiac, Michigan, and Lexington, Kentucky, before moving to the Detroit Free Press in 1983. My roles have ranged from editing a Sunday magazine and working on major investigative reporting projects to serving as a roving feature writer in Appalachia and, for one year, as the Free Press Food Writer.
When newspapers showed signs of crumbling, I spent a year as a Senior Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan researching trends in media. By 2007, I co-founded ReadTheSpirit online magazine and publishing house. Our goal is to maintain the best of traditional journalistic principles—fairness, balance, accuracy and authoritative research—in covering religion, spirituality, values and cross-cultural issues. For 40 days in 2010, my adult son Benjamin and I traveled more than 10,000 miles circling the nation and interviewing people for a daily series of stories called American Journey, which was carried by a newspaper syndicate as well as ReadTheSpirit. To this day, I run into people who ask: “Are you the guy who went around America with his son?”
Here are the 10 Principles we publicly posted in 2007 and live by to this day.
Since I know that many readers of this blog will interview other writers and be interviewed, I asked David to boil down what he has learned in the last forty years about his craft. Below you will find five great tips.
I’m sure David used them when interviewing Archbishop Desmund Tutu and many other special guests.
TIPS FOR INTERVIEWING:
1.) Do your homework! Most interviewers today don’t have time to read an author’s book or to do even the most basic research. Before interviewing Shirley, I had read Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, looked into her life online and then I re-read marked sections of her book before the actual interview.
2.) Look for contrasts. To engage readers in the conversation, look for surprises, for myths to dispel and for details the reader will want to share with a friend over coffee. In Shirley’s case, we began with myths about bonnets.
3.) Explore stories that are part of our larger story. As Frederick Buechner says: We all are part of a much larger story. So, look for topics readers will recognize in their own lives: in this case, curiosity about “Amish country,” the love of children’s books, the commitment to peacemaking and, of course, a great cookie recipe!
4.) It’s a conversation. The best interviews are a balance of insights from both participants. Any good conversationalist knows that the most memorable talks are sparked when you elicit the best anecdotes and ideas from your guest. You shape the flow, and you can add context as you go.
5.) Edit the result. We all assume that journalists edit an interview when producing a profile or news-feature. The same is true of most Q&As. In the New York Times Magazine, the popular Talk feature is a distilled version of a Q&A. We label our conversations “Highlights of Our Interview.”
To read the interview David did with me about my memoir, click here. And to see how he took advantage of the food and recipe features of the book, click here.
Now it’s your turn. Tell a story about an interview that taught you something. Who are your favorite interviewers in any medium? Do they follow David’s rules above?
Such good advice from a clearly knowledgeable man. I love the sound of his American Journey – I will look into that this evening, Meanwhile, I’m off to read the interview!
So glad you found David Crumm and ReadTheSpirit here, Warm Ginger. He sets the bar high for interviewing skills and for a quality electronic magazine.
What a wonderful column and useful notes from a pro in the field. Another sign of a superb interviewer’s preparedness is that s/he can reflect to readers the essence of the interviewee. Many years ago, David interviewed me when my first book was published. When I read the interview in the Free Press, he had included the observation that
“[Debra’s] son and daughter are the sun and moon by which she charts her days.” It was such a beautiful expression and tribute of my motherhood in those days. In that one comment, he reflected me back to myself in such a lovely way. That’s the mark of a really fine, fine interview and interviewer.
Thank you for sharing these thoughts, Debra. David blesses the person he questions by listening deeply to their most cherished values. Then he presents those ideas back to the person and to readers in beautiful language.
Reminding me of one of my favorite quotations from Toni Morrison’s Beloved: “The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. ….”
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