The 6th edition of the Power of Storytelling conference is coming up, on October 14-15, at the Pullman Hotel, part of Bucharest's World Trade Center. We know that poets and journalists, illustrators and musicians are coming over to speak before us. We consume their work and enjoy listening to them, but we also want to know what they enjoy. What moves them? What have they been reading lately, what did they like? What do they recall from their childhood? Some of the speakers from this year's edition of the Power of Storytelling agreed to answer the questions in this questionnaire, obviously inspired by the Proustian version.
Jacqui Banaszynski is an endowed Knight Chair professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, often deemed the world's top school for journos. She has travelled to all seven continents, visited Antarctica three times, and written about corruption, crime, beauty pageants, popes, AIDS, the Olympics, refugee camps, labor strikes, family tragdies and so many other issues. In 1986, she was finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, which she eventually won in 1988, for a series of intimate stories about a gay farm couple dying of AIDS. You can read her stuff on her own website, or watch her speech on how to listen during an interview, at the 2014 edition of the Power of Storytelling.
What are you reading right now? Why?
LaRose, a novel by Louise Erdrich. I’ve been on a fiction binge of late — perhaps because I need the distraction from the insanity of the U.S. presidential election campaign. Erdrich is an intricate, intelligent and unpredictable storyteller who builds her books around flawed characters. Lots of tangled relationships and pain, but also surprising bits of loyalty and redemption.
My nonfiction at the moment is When Breath Becomes Air, which is neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi’s long essay about facing his own terminal cancer at the age of 36. I find that thoughtful reflections on death help me understand, a bit, the mystery of life.
What are you seeing through the window?
I’m at a comfortable Thai restaurant in my neighborhood in Seattle. The staff knows me and always gives me a booth so I can work. Outside the front window, I see ivy wrapping around a sidewalk tree, a brick-and-stucco apartment building bordered by lime-green junipers, and a regular blur of city buses, cars and bicycles passing by.
What is the best trip you ever took as a child?
Fishing trips up north. We already lived in the far north, but always went “up north” to a lake for our family vacations. We stayed in funky little cabins that had creaky screen doors that would slam loudly when my brothers and I ran in and out, and fished from funky little rental boats that my father powered with an outboard motor he brought along. I have no idea exactly where we were — someplace in northeastern Wisconsin or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But I remember the shelter of trees and the slight sense of thrill of being on the boat in what seemed like big water and pulling up small sunfish on my line (too small to keep) and the sound of crickets and night and the stars. Always so many stars.
What are the three best things you discovered this summer?
- The part of Denmark, along the North Atlantic coast, where my maternal grandmother’s people came from in the 1800s. The barns and milking houses felt so familiar — like my “Pop’s” dairy barn in Wisconsin.
- A mountain house in the high north Cascade mountains of Washington state that is for sale. it sits high above a fast-moving creek, has a massive porch and two-story-high windows that look out on a 220-degree view of the surrounding mountains and valley. And it’s for sale — although I can’t afford it.
- The Scrabble word “qi.”
What song is best for packing up your bags and leaving?
Pretty much anything from Frank Sinatra’s “hat years.” Or the Beach Boys. Something that is both memory and singalong that I know so well I don’t have to listen too hard.
What is the one living person you most admire, and why?
Sorry, I simply can’t do “one” and “most”. There are several, and then several more — for many different reasons. My lifelong best friend for her endless optimism. A professional colleague who may be the most authentic person I know. My youngest brother for the kind of father he is to his boys. Gloria Steinem and Hillary Clinton and other women leaders for standing up against a lifetime of criticism and frustration, yet never abandoning their own strength of the possibilities for other women. A dear friend who followed her dream to build a second home and support an extended family in Cambodia. Another dear friend who, though 10 years older than I am, and though still grieving her husband’s death, gets up every day to swim in summer and ski in winter, has a garden that would break your heart, tends to her grandchildren with joy, travels constantly to exotic cases, knocks on doors to campaign for progressive political candidates and never stops learning. A 5-year-old who was born at 1 pound-4 ounces, and has lived every minute since with no fear.
I could go on. As I said, there is no “one most”.
What’s at no. 3 on your bucket list?
I don’t keep a bucket list. I prefer to add things to my life that I want to do, rather than cross of those I’ve already done. And rather than prioritize and plan my adventures, I like to seize those that come along as a surprise. That said, I do want to stand on the coast of Scotland with my face turned to the north Atlantic wind, and figure out how to afford that mountain house in the north Cascades. I also want to indulge in a writing retreat — even if, when I get there, I don’t write.
What’s your favorite word?
This is another question I struggle to answer. I don’t have singular “favorites” in any part of my life I can think of. So I found myself riffing with anxiety through several words: Home. Thunderstorm. Moonshadow. Wolf. Winter. Epiphany. Bookshelf. Adventure. Calligraphy. Cotton. Window box…
I guess if I have to choose one, I’ll say: WONDER.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I’m going to assume the guests have to be living so…
Feminist activist Gloria Steinem. She is whip-smart and worldly and yet always focuses on other people.
Hillary Clinton, to see if we can help her relax and just be herself — a self I am told, by those who know her, is warm and open and wonderful. She must be tired and could probably use a night to just stand down and sip wine, without having to either be on message or be less smart than she really is.
Who would direct the movie of your life, and why?
I don’t know enough about movie directors to know individual styles. But NOT Woody Allen (too self-absorbed), NOT Quentin Tarantino (too gratuitously violent), NOT Robert Altman (too off-screen chaotic). Maybe Robert Redford. I like how patiently and deeply he seems to see his characters. Or, ideally, a woman director who knows how to portray women honestly and without the usual traps.
Questions: Luiza Vasiliu and Ioana Pelehatăi
Facilitation: Ioana Burtea
Illustration: Ioana Șopov