Talk Essay - Critical Essays

Talk

TALK is an insider’s account of NPR, an archive of people and issues that shaped debate for two decades, a lively guide to the art of the interview, and the memoir of a redoubtable radio pioneer. “Trying to find art, insight, connections, in the middle of the news of the day” is the way Stamberg defines her mission—as co-host of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED for fourteen years, then host of WEEKEND EDITION, and, since 1989, special correspondent for both NPR programs as well as MORNING EDITION.

Though she includes encounters with Jimmy Carter, Nancy Reagan, Harold Stassen, Barbara Jordan, and Geraldine Ferraro, Stamberg is less interested in politics than in personality. Aiming for news more enduring than current events, she points her microphone most passionately toward artists and thinkers. Memorable voices conjured up by TALK include those of David Mamet, Margot Fonteyn, Ethel Merman, Marcel Ophuls, Dave Brubeck, M.F.K. Fisher, Helen Frankenthaler, Helen Hayes, Mark Strand, Annie Leibovitz, and Andre Dubus.

Readers will select their own favorites; Stamberg designates an interview with Edward Villella as hers. Yet it is missing from the book because, admits the endearing pro, she inadvertently erased it. As worthy substitute, she offers her conversation with Joan Didion. The most painful interview, one that caused Stamberg to weep on the air, was with commentator Kim Williams, dying of cancer. Her most difficult was with John Ehrlichman.

Stamberg’s challenge is to bare and share truth in three and a half to five minutes. The essence of her exchanges often resides in the silences between words and the tone of sentences, qualities impossible to transpose into print. But, beyond the verbal record, Stamberg discusses and updates each report. Women’s rights, AIDS, cancer, and homelessness are recurring themes, but suffusing all is the infectious curiosity of a gregarious woman whose ear, she claims, is “shaped like a question mark.”