Talese and Michel Marriott

New York Times reporter and 2002 Nieman Fellow Michel Marriott introduced Gay Talese at the Nieman Narrative Journalism Conference. Excerpts of their comments follow:

Michel Marriott: As a young reporter at The New York Times, I wanted to write sort of a counter-intuitive story around Father’s Day. I wanted to find a welfare father who had children, abandoned them, then rediscovered them and was trying to reattach. After the story was published, I got this most amazing message. It was from Gay Talese. He was so generous in his comments and said he really liked what I’d written and thought we should have dinner. So began our long friendship, and he continues to inspire me. I’ve watched him in action, his technique. He’s an incredible reporter, getting people to reveal things I don’t think they’ve even revealed to themselves.

Gay Talese: I told Michel I liked his story and wanted to meet him. But, as always, there was an ulterior motive. I didn’t know if The New York Times would let him to do a second story, but I thought we might collaborate. I wanted to know what it was like to be very poor, as this young man [in Michel’s story] from the ghetto of East Baltimore was, and yet to somehow have the language of seduction be so compelling that he could find himself in bed with four women, producing their children.

So after wining and dining Michel, we went to East Baltimore and talked with this guy and some of the women. With a story like this, there’s another way of looking at it, another way of thinking about things, like how do you get laid when you’re poor? What was his line? It’s so hard to get laid. How did this guy do it? This is interesting to me. It’s curiosity. With many of these stories involving people who are not in the news, you let the story live, the characters go on and live their lives, and you keep in touch. That has been part of the style I’ve followed, in terms of nonfiction—indulging my curiosity.

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