Friday, April 20, 2012

The Writer at Work

Preparing to interview George Packer requires tough choices.  Do we talk about Iraq or about American liberalism?  About journalism or fiction?  About the past or about the future?  Packer has written two novels, a play, a couple of book-length non-fiction works, and a whole lot of articles for a variety of magazines.  His main gig these days is as a staff writer for The New Yorker, a job that he says allows him the luxury of working on a story for several months at a time -- something that's unusual for journalists today. 

One of the qualities of the best writers I know is curiosity, something Packer displays in his habit of deflecting questions about himself and asking lots of questions of the people around him.  After our interview, he sat down with a dozen or so YSU journalism students, and after talking a little about his own work, he started asking them questions.  He did the same thing over dinner later, asking those around the table about our work. Some of that is professional necessity.  He is, after all, doing a bit of writing about Youngstown.  But some of it, I think, is a habit of mind.  And that's at least half of what makes a good writer. 

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