Long Story Short: upholding the oral tradition

Most every journalist, at least the old ones like me, has heard of Studs Terkel.
The man was amazing.
He painted portraits of World War II, the Great Depression, race relations, celebrities, criminals and every day American life and people with words.
But he rarely used words of his own.
Terkel was an artist of oral history.
He knew how to get people to open up — whether for his books, for radio or for television. He knew how to listen intensely and compassionately and how sift through what was said and what was not said for what was true.
He did not simply conduct interviews; He had conversations.
Conversations that brought history alive.
Studs Terkel died in 2008 at age 96, leaving a huge void in the journalism world and in the tradition of oral history. Just that year, I had started working on a nonfiction book in which I tried to emulate his style. I was saddened.
It felt like a huge loss.
So I was pleased today to find a link on my twins blog to the work of Larry Horowitz, owner of Long Story Short, a company that creates video biographies. Someone wanted me to see a video interview he had conducted with 77-year-old identical twins.
The video and the women are amazing.
Horowitz gently guides their conversation, but he does so with few words.
He lets the twins do the rest.
It reminded me of Studs Terkel.
Horowitz spent 20 years as a video and film editor in the advertising business, where he edited commercials for companies such as P&G, Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and AT&T. He left the industry to follow his own passion, to create something more intimate, most lasting.
He had uploaded his interview with the twins to YouTube, where it attracted the attention of the folks at Walgreens. The sisters landed a role in a Walgreen’s flu shot commercial. That role led to talk appearances on Dr. Phil and the Rosie O’Donnell show.
All because Larry Horowitz let them speak, honestly, openly and without nervous inhibition. He didn’t have to tell viewers about their bond. He let the two women show it. And the result is powerful. So much like the work of Studs Terkel.
Thank You, Larry Horowitz.


Originally posted Nov. 8, 2008

I am a mom.
I am a wife.
I am a stepmother, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a sister, a sister-in-law, a niece, a cousin, an aunt, a great aunt, a friend. I’m sure I am even an enemy to a select few.
But no matter who I am to others, I am always a writer.
It is as a writer that I see the world even when I am too steeped in laundry and dishes to reach for a pencil and paper or to tap away on my laptop.
There was a time when I didn’t believe that, when I didn’t believe that writers perceived things all that differently than others and I didn’t believe in myself. Even during my years as a full-time journalist.
But I was over-thinking, and isn’t that what writing is all about?
Writing is about thinking. It’s about perception, analysis and vision. It’s a constant craving to understand the complexities of the world and of human nature and to convey that understanding through written words in a way that excites, energizes and entertains.
When I finally understood and accepted the distraction of that craving and the strength of that lure, when I finally caved in and called myself a writer, other things became clear to me and I began to accept them as well:
That’s why my house is a mess.
That’s why the walls need painting.
That’s why I have no garden and the flowers by the mailbox always die prematurely.
That’s why my older kids roll their eyes when I try to explain the dynamics of their friendships and the various points of view in their arguments.
That’s why my toddler twins grin, cackle and run when they see my laptop.
That’s why I can’t bake a decent cake, knit Christmas gifts, wrap a present with style or learn the art of scrapbooking.
That’s why I don’t get enough sleep.
So I’m sorry PTO.I’m sorry Dr. Sears, Martha Stewart, Suze Orman.
My house is a mess, my desk is a mess, my bills are a mess and I don’t dress well.
It’s not my fault.
I’m a writer.
I write to think; I think to write.