Bob Woodward Interview (page: 6 / 7)
What attracted you to the newspaper business?
Bob Woodward: If somebody came from Mars to America and went around for months or years, and then you asked them who has the best jobs, they would say the journalists, because the journalists get to make momentary entries into people's lives when they are interesting, and get out when they cease to be interesting. And most jobs, if you are a lawyer or a doctor, you have to deal with clients, patients who have boring problems or diseases that are routine, and of course, the definition of "news" is "non-routine." What's going on in the town -- in culture, in the nation, in the world -- is news, and you get to work on that.
[ Key to Success ] Passion
You get to have access to people you wouldn't normally have access to.
Bob Woodward: And problems. What I try to do is piece together how people make decisions.
How did you get interested in those things? Where were you born?
Bob Woodward: I was born in a hospital in Geneva, Illinois but lived in Wheaton, which is the home of Billy Graham, the evangelist, so it was very fundamentalist Christian. There were no bars in town. People who went to Wheaton College had to sign a pledge: no drinking, smoking, dancing, movies, playing of cards. So it was the classic kind of Winesburg, Ohio small town. My father was a lawyer there, and I worked as a janitor in his law office when I was in high school, and started reading the files and discovered that the projection that people in the town made about their own lives was in fact not who they were, that lots of them had secrets, and many of them were in my father's law office files.
Bob Woodward: As defendants, as tax cases, divorce cases, the full catastrophe of litigation. And in it, you just saw that it was not as pure and simple a community as the members liked people to think. People had troubles, and people had secrets.
Were you the only child? Were there siblings?
Bob Woodward: In the family I was raised in: a brother, a sister, two stepsisters, a half-sister.
And you grew up with all of them?
Bob Woodward: Yes, and then later, my parents were divorced, and my father remarried a woman who had three kids also. It was one of those families that was "glued together."
How old were you during the divorce?
Bob Woodward: About 11, 12, 13.
Was it tough?
Bob Woodward: Of course. Divorce is painful because it is unknown to a child. You don't have a context for it, so it destroys the very notion of context, because the only context you know as a child is family.
Yes. Were there other writers in your father or mother's family?
Bob Woodward: No, not that I can think of. There were some teachers and lawyers and business people, but no writers.
What did your mom do?
Bob Woodward: She was a housewife.
When you were a child, who most inspired you? Were there particular teachers or relatives?
Bob Woodward: Oh, yes, I had teachers at Wheaton. A community high school history teacher named Elizabeth Duncan who taught American history and was a great teacher. Very forceful, very insistent that we write essays to answer questions, and not short answers. Somebody who through force of personality made history interesting and important.
Were there other people that inspired you? Writers or journalists who inspired you?
Bob Woodward: Not really. It looked like I was going to become a lawyer, and my father to a certain extent was my model. He was a very well-regarded lawyer in town. I remember going around and giving my name to lots of people, and they would say, "Oh, you're Al Woodward's son. He's a good lawyer, a fair man."
Where were you in the pecking order of siblings?
Bob Woodward: The oldest.
Do you think being the oldest had an influence on your life?
Bob Woodward: Who knows whether it's that? To a certain extent, I was able to go my own way. I would have summer jobs, while my parents and other siblings would go on vacation, for instance.
So you had a certain amount of independence?
Bob Woodward: An immense amount of independence.
What books impressed you as a kid? Are there particular books that you remember?
Bob Woodward: Sure. I didn't start reading seriously until probably junior high school. I had a friend who read books like Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. I had fallen in love with some books at a younger age like Swiss Family Robinson, adventure stories, but I tried to read Crime and Punishment, and read some other books, and then in high school I took a course reading books, and that really kind of focused me on the value of a book.
At that period, what did you like to read? What were your favorite authors?
Bob Woodward: We read pretty much the range of classics, and nothing really jumped out or are books that I had distinct memories of.
Bob Woodward: It's the nature of the business. You get to see other people's lives, and you chart the rise and fall of others, and you're not that involved. You are an observer and you have to work pretty hard to preserve your outsider status, but that is what you get to do as a reporter.
You mentioned Faulkner. Are there particular novels of his that you remember liking?
Bob Woodward: Sure. Light in August; Absalom, Absalom; "The Bear," that little novella. It was mysterious always, his writing, but of great emotional impact.
There's so much richness in his language, it's almost the opposite of journalistic writing.
Bob Woodward: Well, of course, what Faulkner is trying to do is get to the interior, and in the end, as a journalist, you are trying to get to the interior. You are trying to understand somebody's reasoning and their emotions and the demons they may or may not have. You are trying to find out what really happened. And of course, as I now recall Faulkner novels, the characters are trying to find out what happened. It's not clear, it's obscure. Events are in no way simple or cinematic. Events are filtered through minds and memories and prejudices, and you feel intimate with his characters.
I'm thinking of the book, As I Lay Dying, which is from all different characters' points of view, like interviewing people for a story.
Bob Woodward: Or The Sound and the Fury, which is his great book. That goes back to the idea of family secrets.
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This page last revised on Sep 22, 2010 17:21 EDT
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