Great Reportage | Day of Dialog 2018

Moderated by LJ’s great reporter, Lisa Peet (whose actual title is associate editor, news & features), “Great Reportage” presented  five ace nonfiction writers: Susan Orlean, The Library Book (S. & S., Oct.); John Carreyrou, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (Knopf, May); Eli Saslow, Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist (Doubleday, Sept.); Tim Mohr, Burning Down the Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall (Algonquin, Sept.); and Mona Hanna-Attisha, What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City (Oneworld, Jun.). Peet first asked why the authors wrote a book instead of long-form journalism. Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who broke open the water crisis in Flint, MI, said she didn’t start out to write a book, but the story has “so many pieces—environmental justice, public health,” and she wove in her personal story. “The hardest part was stopping,” she said, adding that Flint residents are “still on bottled water.” Saslow knew that the transformation of his subject, former white nationalist Derek Black, was so “extreme and huge” that a long news piece “couldn’t do it justice.” Mohr was DJing in Berlin clubs when he met the punk activists profiled in his book. He began to see “eerie echoes” of current U.S. conditions and decided he had to write “a handbook for resisting authoritarianism.” Orlean earned applause for saying libraries have influenced her “whole life,” but she didn’t know the “inner workings of a place that was so familiar to me”; she added that chronicling the 1986 fire that nearly destroyed the Los Angeles Library gave her “an arc.” Carreyrou’s first thought after realizing that the Silicon Valley company he was covering for the Wall Street Journal tried to intimidate his sources was “this isn’t a book, it’s a movie.” Peet also asked the authors about inserting themselves in the story and other stylistic choices. Mohr, who was repeatedly nudged by “every publisher” to write a memoir, replied that there was “no fucking way I was going to put myself alongside people who’ve been in Stasi prison”; Saslow “didn’t want to intrude” on his subjects and said it was easy to get their voices on the page because they were almost all “self-documenting millennials” (referencing social media). For Orlean, “it felt natural” to include herself in a library narrative but as a guide; Carryrou said the first 75 percent of his book is narrative, with the last 25 percent first-person owing to how the company came after him when he really “dug in” to the story. Hanna-Attisha talked about how she wanted her nonfiction account to read like a fast-paced thriller, “caffeinated” but with breaks for her account of lead poisoning. Photos ©2018 William Neumann

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