The Paula Gordon Show
Creating Faces

For Anna Quindlen, there are no issues. Only people. And we just don't look each other in the face enough. People's faces are a common theme for this reporter-turned-Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Op/Ed columnist and novelist. æHer stories often embody issues but never succumb to them.

Rejecting today's "issues journalism" -- full of depersonalizing statistics and abstractions -- Quindlen shows us faces: a man who lives in a cardboard box (not "homelessness"); tears running down the face of a little boy whose mother's meager salary cannot provide him a hot lunch when school is called off (not "welfare reform"); a man whose fist breaks the bones of his beloved (not "spouse abuse"); the anguished face on a young lesbian whose parents hate her for who she is (not "gay rights"). Quindlen also offers us hero and heroines, personified for her by inner city nuns quietly "carrying the water" for the rest of us. Issues anesthetize us, she believes, allow us to delude ourselves that having talked about the issues, we have done something to solve them. æNot so.

Despite twenty-five years covering everything from New York City Mayor Koch's City Hall to pregnant teenagers, Quindlen chooses idealism over cynicism. She became a newspaper reporter to feed her hunger to be a novelist and now she is both. Both allow her to show us the human face of our fellow travelers along life's path, individuals in whom she believes passionately. Clearly, idealism powers Quindlen. At the end of most days, she echoes Anne Frank's,"Despite it all, I still believe people are really good at heart."

What does Anna Quindlen see when she points her periscope on the horizon of the next 30 years? æA growing willingness to do the work required to make things better. She is astonishingly optimistic, even as she accounts for how we got"stuck" during the last 30. Her enthusiasm comes from two sources -- she sees people already shaping viable communities, from book clubs to neighborhood groups. And she exalts in today's kids, with all their challenges, whom she sees as better than she was at their age -- more tolerant, more interesting and less hide-bound.

That's not to say we can be complacent. Quindlen still gets angry about things she thinks should anger us all -- stereotyping, bigotry, racism, intolerance of gay men and lesbians, wasting the talents of anyone. And talk, she reminds us, is not action.

Anna Quindlen's character-driven novels and provocative columns call us to do something about today's challenges, to take the masks off issues so we can look our fellow travelers in the eye, learn to be human from the people who are ministering to kids in trouble, feeding the hungry, planting community gardens. Her feminist fairy tale -- written with the advise and consent of her own children -- tells us how it's done. "Who saved thee, Princess?" the heroine is asked by those who expect to learn the name of her knight in shining armor."I saved myself."

Anna Quindlen

. . . won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for her New York Times column, "Public and Private." She is also the author of Living Out Loud, from her "Life in the 30's" columns, and two children's books. She has written two best selling novels and Random House has just published a third, Black and Blue.


Conversation 1

Anna Quindlen tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell how she sees herself as both similar to and different from her readers. She describes her life as a reporter and the great pleasure she has taken in that role. She describes alternate paths she sees reporters taking over time, drawing her own conclusions about people's basic goodness, convinced that there are no "stories" or "issues," only people to whom reporters have a responsibility to be sensitive.

Conversation 2

Issues journalism concerns Ms. Quindlen. She describes what she sees as the implications of distancing ourselves from the human faces that issues and statistics mask, from homelessness to welfare reform. She describes America's shift from predictable small towns to today's transient society, noting how tempting stereotypes have become, mourning the fact that people today don't look each other in the face anymore. Ms. Quindlen suggests that after 25 years of ringing our hands over the loss of small towns, we would be well served to sit down and figure out how to recreate what was good about them in today's cities, suburbs, work places and churches. She urges us to act, rather than wasting time just talking about issues. She reminds us that we are also tempted to stereotype "the media," complimenting her former newspaper.

Ms. Quindlen recalls how she and New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal made up her first opinion column, "Life in the Thirties," without the aid of focus groups or committee meetings.

Conversation 3

Ms. Quindlen tells us what she thinks is her distinguishing characteristic. She predicts when the media will catch up with the "community" phenomenon she sees flourishing across the country, especially among people who read. She describes how she writes and how every job she's ever had has scared her. æShe recalls how her own kids helped her write her children's books, offering graphic examples of kids prevailing over editors. Returning to the book clubs she visits, she calls for age-appropriate books for kids. She tells us why she is confident, contrary to popular belief, that people are in fact, reading. Then she describes her own lifelong ambition to be a novelist, which came to fruition when she published her first novel in 1990, while still writing her column.

Conversation 4

Ms. Quindlen uses examples from her latest novel to demonstrate how "character-driven" she is as a novelist. She describes things which make her angry, from wasted potential to bigotry against gay men and lesbian women. She describes how her children are growing up in a more gender-neutral era than did she, which she applauds. She makes very clear her contempt for homophobia.

Conversation 5

When Ms. Quindlen was writing columns, her highest compliments were from people who profoundly disagreed with her, but never missed reading her work. She describes her philosophy for writing columns and tells how she differed from others. She agrees that a good column is like a democracy, opening up debate. She describes the many ways she uses to be able to hear the readers' voices responding. æMs. Quindlen tells us why she is "incredibly optimistic about the next 25 or 30 years in America,"æretracing where we have been in the last 25 or 30. She tells why today's young people are a source of great hope to her.

Conversation 6

Anna Quindlen describes the profound affect she sees today's nuns having in our society and tells the essential role they played in her own early life, citing examples of current projects and from her youth. While she enjoyed interviewing Tennessee Williams, Barbra Streisand and other well known people, she bows to the people she says taught her what it means to be human. She tells us why, in the end, she is delighted to be an idealist.


It was a pleasure to have others join us around at the dining table in The Commerce Club's Bobby Jones room as we talked with Ms. Quindlen. As always, the hospitality was impeccable.

Additional Links:
Anna Quindlen's newest novel, Black and Blue, is published by Random House.

Quick buttons

© 1998 The Paula Gordon Show.
All materials contained on this website are
copyrighted by The Paula Gordon Show and may
not be used in any way without the express,
written consent of Paula Gordon.
Since April 17, 1998 this page has been accessed times.