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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011 2:18 pm
He Did Nothing Wrong
Posted by: Brad Hooper

In July, my colleague Donna Seaman and I participated in ALA’s virtual conference. We were the lunchtime “entertainment.” We interviewed an author apiece, and we were each able to chose an author for whom we have great admiration; and “my” author was the distinguished historian David McCullough, author of, most recently, The Greater Journey, a brilliant chronicle of the young American artists, musicians, etc. who, in the nineteenth century, spent time in Paris, to polish both their talent and lifestyle.

The interview was extremely comfortable for me and I assume for him as well, given the relaxed way he conversed with me.

The virtual conference participants were naturally allowed to submit evaluations of the program, and one criticism of my interview with McCullough was that he dominated the conversation. My initial reaction was, “Oh, please. He was the star. Let him talk.”

Then I thought about it further, wondering to myself what is the correct ratio, in a live interview, of questioning and answering.

The interviewer must exert some control over the interviewee and the course of the conversation, but it’s been my experience as an interviewer that you must let the person blossom and only serve as a subtle sheepdog to herd him or her to a successful interview end result.

And the responsive interviewee will let himself or herself be guided–will trust the interviewer in their guidance ability–to a place where both are satisfied with what they gave and took in the course of the interview.

So, in final thought, I knew what I had known the minute the interview was over: that David McCullough did just right.

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