Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Steve Luxenberg

Laura Wexler, author of Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America, interviewed Steve Luxenberg about his new book, Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret. Their exchange begins:

Q. You say several times in Annie’s Ghosts that you were working to balance your roles as a reporter and as a son. Can you discuss how you navigated these roles, and describe any situations that challenged the balance you created?

A. The secret first emerged during a time when my mom was quite sick, and my siblings and I were trying to figure out how to deal with her frequent trips to the hospital emergency room and her resulting anxiety. That initially put me in the role of son, and as a son, I believed what Mom had told her doctor and what was reported to us: That she had no idea what had happened to her sister. Of course, that turned out not to be true.

Once I set out to write the book, I wanted to tell the story fully, without holding back. I’ve been a journalist for so long that it wasn’t hard for me to slip into the role of questioner and observer. I sometimes wonder if that’s one reason why I chose journalism. It’s one of the few professions that sometimes demands immersion in difficult and emotional subjects, while allowing the reporter to set aside, or even submerge, his or her own feelings.

A book puts the writer into a more complex relationship with the material. I wanted to apply the discipline of journalism to ferret out the story, but I didn’t want to push aside my feelings—they were part of the story, too. Sometimes I found myself taking notes on my own reactions, and that felt strange at first.

Q. At some points in the narrative, I see you holding back your personal reaction to avoid influencing the person you’re interviewing. Can you talk about that?

A. The most difficult...[read on]
Read the prologue to Annie’s Ghosts and visit Steve Luxenberg’s website, where you can see photos and documents relating to the book and read his blog.

The Page 99 Test: Annie's Ghosts.

--Marshal Zeringue