BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Anna Quindlen, in your new book, "Thinking Out Loud," you say that the – I – I was trying to look at the – the words here that the – the best line in anything that's ever appeared under your byline is, "Could you get up and get me a beer without writing about it?" – question mark. Who said that and why did you write it?
ANNA QUINDLEN, AUTHOR, "THINKING OUT LOUD": My husband said it to me one night. And I must say, it's so embarrassing to have this kind of mind-set about everything, but the moment he finished that sentence, I said to him, "Can I use that?" I just thought it was the best thing I'd ever heard about what I do for a living, which is that everything becomes grist for the mill.
LAMB: How much have you told the public in your columns in the past about your private, personal life?
QUINDLEN: I've told them a fair amount about my kids, I think, more than – than anyone else, except for myself. I've – I've told them a whole lot about myself and some about my husband and my friends. But in the op-ed page column I've been writing for the last three years, I've scaled back on that a good bit, first of all, because my kids are older and they can read now. And second of all, because I – I wanted in this column to bring more reporting about the world to bear on my personal opinions and less reporting about my own life.
LAMB: You talk about the fact that you're the third woman in history to have an op-ed column in The New York Times. Who were the other two?
QUINDLEN: Anne O'Hare McCormick, who wrote about foreign affairs, and Flora Lewis, who also wrote about foreign affairs, actually, Ann O'Hare McCormick in the '40s and '50s, and Flora up until quite recently, several years ago.
LAMB: Why does The New York Times only have one woman?
QUINDLEN: That's a very good question. The answer is that I hope in the foreseeable future, we'll have more than one. But so far, it's only me. I'd like to see us have three or four women writing on the op-ed page.
And it's not just us. I mean, I mention in the book at some point, that at one point, I was at a gathering of editors from out-of-town papers and one of them said to me without a hint of thinking he was saying anything peculiar, "I'd love to run your column, but we already run Ellen Goodman."
And clearly the idea was, they'd filled the woman's seat. Just as there's a woman's seat on the Supreme Court, there's a woman's seat on the op-ed page. That's – that's got to stop, the idea that you need one woman columnist, one black columnist and everybody else can be liberal or conservative white men.
LAMB: When does your column appear?
QUINDLEN: Wednesdays and Sundays in The Times. And then in papers across the country, a variety of days, depending on what the op-ed page editor wants to do.
LAMB: Do you have any idea how many papers it's published in?
QUINDLEN: We think a little over 100 at this point, although it's difficult to keep track of them because of our syndication system. But with the list of names that we've developed, we think that that's just about right.
LAMB: Is there another city where you find yourself more popular than others?
QUINDLEN: Chicago, I find that there's a pretty good reaction. Chicago seems to be a city that really loves its columnists. I mean, you know, Chicago and Royko or Chicago and Clarence Page or Bob Greene. They take columnists very much to their heart.
And I ran there when I was writing a column once a week called, Life In The 30s, so that by the time I started this column and – and the Chicago Tribune picked it up, it was probably the only city that I visited in which people would recognize me on the street. So I feel – I feel pretty at home in Chicago at this point.
LAMB: As I told you before this show started now – this discussion started that on my way here, everybody kept telling me, "Oh, I saw Anna Quindlen on television the other night." Some people had it on "20/20," others had it on "PrimeTime Live." And of course, this is recorded for our audience, you know, weeks before we get it on the air. But what's going on here with Anna Quindlen? How come all of a sudden on prime-time television?
QUINDLEN: Well, I think it's the book. I try to keep a low profile about things like that. You know, I get asked to be on television a fair amount, and first of all, I don't have a whole lot of free time because any time that I'm not working on the column, I'm usually with my kids.
And second of all, I – I sort of don't like the idea of – of dissipating the energy that I bring to writing the column in talking out how I feel about issues beforehand. But because of – of having the book published, there was a certain interest in doing it and so – so I agreed to this. But it was – it was pretty tense the – the magazine showpiece, just because they followed me for a long time and I began to feel like I was going to spend the rest of my life with a battery pack in the pocket of my coat.
LAMB: When did they start following you?
QUINDLEN: Oh, I guess it was three or four weeks ago, and they were with me for – for days and days. When I – when I did some reporting, they went with me to a family planning clinic, and when I won an award, and when I went to talk to high school students and when I went into the office, and so on and so forth.
LAMB: What was the reaction of people around you as you had a camera following you everywhere?
QUINDLEN: It was really funny because people couldn't quite figure out why. I mean, here's this very ordinary-looking woman in a raincoat reading the newspaper on the train, and how come there's a camera crew around her.
But inevitably, they'd say, "Well, what's going on here? What's going on here?" And some woman would tell them who I was and they'd either just look even more puzzled and walk on, or a couple of women would walk into the frame and say, "I love your column. I never miss it," which is always a great feeling.
LAMB: What was the experience like after you were able to see the piece when it was done?
QUINDLEN: Well, it was strange. I mean, I – I – I feel a little self-conscious about seeing myself on television. It always gives, to me, new meaning for the phrase "warts and all." I mean, I'm always looking for the "and all." But I – I actually thought it was – it was a very nice piece and that they captured something about how – how to try to balance my personal and my public life.
LAMB: Did you change your personality at all at any point when you knew you were on television?
QUINDLEN: I don't think so. I felt a little inhibited in terms of saying things. And, of course, I cleaned up my mouth a little bit. But, no – I mean, after a while – I think the dangerous thing was that I got used to wearing that mike and that battery pack and just went on my merry way. But I don't feel like I changed my personality much.
LAMB: This book, "Thinking Out Loud: On The Personal, the Political, the Public and the Private," has how many columns of yours?
QUINDLEN: I think its 87 – 87, 88, something like that, close to 100. And then it has a – a – a new long section that I wrote especially for this book about being a woman, growing up in the newspaper business and then four essays that begin each of the sections of the book.
LAMB: And who chose the columns?
QUINDLEN: I did.
LAMB: Over what time span?
QUINDLEN: The columns ran over about two and a half years, and I just picked whatever I liked.
LAMB: And why do you think something like this sells?
QUINDLEN: Well, you know, I feel sort of funny about pulling together collections of my columns, because I think, "You already did this." You know, when I – when I was publishing my novel, "Object Lessons," I felt this is a brand-new thing and I'm sort of entitled.
But readers tell me over and over again that they like it, first of all, because they've clipped these things out and saved them, and they turn this horrible orange color and start to fall apart after a couple of months or so.
And second of all, because putting them together with like-minded columns gives them a way of looking at – at the issue that they didn't quite have when I did, oh, one abortion column in February, another one in April, another one in July, another one in November. So that what I found with the first collection I did, which was a collection of my Life In The 30s columns, was that people really, really liked having them together all in one place.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
LAMB: Where in Philadelphia?
QUINDLEN: The Philadelphia suburbs, in a place called Drexel Hill.
LAMB: What did your parents do? Are they still alive, by the way?
QUINDLEN: Yes. My mother died 21 years ago, but my father's a management consultant, or as he described it to me when I was a little girl, he is a doctor for sick companies.
LAMB: Does he still live there?
QUINDLEN: No, he doesn't. He lives in New Jersey now.
LAMB: How many brothers and sisters?
QUINDLEN: I'm the oldest of five. I have three brothers and a sister who's 11 years younger than I am.
LAMB: When you were growing up, what were the big influences on your life?
QUINDLEN: Oh, the biggest influence had to be the Catholic Church. I'm from a very large, sprawling, Irish Catholic family that's very involved in its own ethnicity. I mean, it was sort of incredible to me when I got to college and found out there were people who didn't know exactly where their family had come from and feel that that meant exactly something about them.
But the church was such a huge influence in all our lives. I went to Catholic school for 10 years. That – that I would say that that was the single biggest influence other than – than my mom and dad.
LAMB: What kind of an influence did it have on you?
QUINDLEN: I think a way of looking at the world. I was just saying to someone today that in an odd kind of way, I think I'm a liberal because I was raised a Catholic, with a sense that you had to be fair to other people and that you had to help take care of people who were less fortunate than you were, and that everyone was sort of your neighbor and you had an affirmative responsibility toward them.
Ad I think that sense of family and community that grew out of knowing that we were all part of this together and that we were related by religion.
LAMB: Where did you go to college?
QUINDLEN: I went to Barnard, the woman's College of Columbia University.
LAMB: What did you study?
QUINDLEN: I was an English literature major.
LAMB: And why?
QUINDLEN: An English literature major?
QUINDLEN: Because the idea of just getting to read for four years. I mean, if I could do that now, just to read – it's just my favorite thing in the whole world to do. And I'm always finding writers 1that I missed either because of my concentration, which tended to be on certain writers.
I'm – I'm a very big Dickens fan and I did all the studying of Dickens work that I could do in – in college. But a couple of years ago, I realized that I had never read Trollope and that seemed to me a huge gap in my education. So over the last two years, I guess, I've been engaged in reading the "Palliser" series of Trollope. And right now, I'm in the middle of the last book. So I mean, the idea of being able to study fiction, it just to me is heaven.
LAMB: Who got you interested in reading and English?
QUINDLEN: Oh, I don't know. I just remember always taking a lot of pleasure out of reading. I – I – I was a very fanciful little girl and the opportunity to go other places and meet other people just by sitting in the big chair in our living room and burrowing down into a book.
I mean, I remember unceasing efforts on my mother's part to get me to go outside and play because it was a beautiful day. And it never did a bit of good when I was inside with a good book.
LAMB: What did you do after college?
QUINDLEN: Actually, during college, I was working part-time, during summers and holidays, for the New York Post, which was then owned by a woman named Dorothy Shiff. And I had a wonderful time there and learned so much, since I knew almost nothing, about my business. And so for the two years after I graduated from Barnard, I continued to work at the Post.
LAMB: What did you do there?
QUINDLEN: I was a general assignment reporter in New York City. I mean, I covered anything that came down the pike, from celebrity interviews, to police commission hearings, to City Hall, to Fifth Avenue, and really learned a lot about the city, about writing. It was a place where we were really urged to bring bright writing to newspaper stories. And it really set me up, I think, for the rest of my career.
LAMB: What year did you get out of college?
LAMB: And so you've been in New York City for the last – what? – 18, 19 years.
QUINDLEN: No, longer than that. I came in 1970 to go to college, so, yes, I guess, 20 – 22, 23 years, something like that.
LAMB: When you think about those days at the New York Post and stories that you've covered that have memories, name a couple.
QUINDLEN: Oh, gosh. I remember covering the first hearings that became so famous about corruption in the nursing home system in New York City and how badly elderly people were treated, which made a huge impression on me.
I remember doing a profile of Sean Connery and not being able to get a word out of him for almost the entire interview and then going back and rewinding my tape and opening the tape recorder and finding out that there was less than that on the tape and having to write a piece about how monosyllabic he'd been and how overwhelmed by his sex appeal I'd been.
I remember covering Jerry Brown during the 1976 primary race, which was a great introduction to the craziness of politics for me, and – and just your run-of-the-mill murders and mayhem in New York and just learning how to get around, learning how to deal and learning how helpful my colleagues could be.
It's funny, I still work with people in New York City who first worked with me when I was 19 or 20 years old. And you really remember the guys who said to you, "Did you get the quote?" "Were you here the last time he did this?" – Because the guys who didn't ever say overtly, "Look, kid, you're out of your league," but who helped you out over and over again.
LAMB: Are you surprised at what you're doing today?
QUINDLEN: I don't feel that way now, but I feel like if I could have looked ahead 10 years ago, I would be flabbergasted at the idea that I'd be doing an op-ed page column. But now, because I've done two other columns for The Times, a column called About New York and then Life In The 30s, I – I feel like it's been sort of a natural progression. I'm still delighted by what I'm doing today.
LAMB: How long did you work at the New York Post?
QUINDLEN: I was there after college for two, two and a half years and then in 1977, I went to The Times.
LAMB: When did you meet your husband?
QUINDLEN: Oh, I met him in 1970.
QUINDLEN: Our freshman year in college. He was at Columbia and I was at Barnard.
LAMB: What's his name?
QUINDLEN: His name is Jerry Curvatin.
LAMB: What does he do?
QUINDLEN: He's a trial attorney – a very good trial attorney, actually.
LAMB: How did you meet him?
QUINDLEN: Someone actually sort of fixed us up. A guy from Oregon that we both knew realized we were both from New Jersey and thought this was an amazing coincidence, not understanding that at Columbia University, about half the students were from New Jersey. And so he brought us together and sort of – I never looked back.
LAMB: And do you both agree on politics?
QUINDLEN: We agree a lot on politics. I think my husband's more pragmatic than I am and more hard-headed, slightly more conservative but not much. And I think overall, we find ourselves in considerable agreement about things.
LAMB: You mentioned earlier you're a liberal?
QUINDLEN: Oh, yes.
LAMB: What does that mean?
QUINDLEN: It means that I don't yearn for the way things were and I don't honor the status quo. I'm always looking at how things can be.
LAMB: If you were to pick – let's just for the fun of it pick five different subjects and talk about what it is to be a liberal in those subjects. Let's take – and you write a lot about it in your – the columns, the Gulf War. If you're a liberal, where would you have stood on the Gulf War?
QUINDLEN: I was opposed to the Gulf War and I thought that that was in some sense a classic liberal position because we didn't have – I didn't think we had real good reasons for going in when we did.
And I thought we were being somewhat misleading about those reasons from the get-go. The idea of liberating Kuwait never seemed to me to be really what was going on and it took us some months before we finally admitted that we were really concerned about America's oil supplies.
LAMB: Did you know any liberals that were for it?
QUINDLEN: Oh, yes. Sure. In fact, I think probably more than any other issue that I've written about in the three years that I've been an op-ed page columnist, there were – the majority of people on both sides of the ideological fence who wound up across – across the table from me on that one.
I mean, there was this hard core of conservatives who were opposed to intervention in the Gulf War, too, but overwhelmingly the conservatives I knew and most of the liberals thought that – that on balance, we should send in the troops.
LAMB: I don't know where it is. I've marked it in here, but someplace in here in one of those columns on the Gulf War, you predicted, without hesitation, that George Bush was going to be re-elected in 1992.
QUINDLEN: And that if he ran with Colin Powell, it would be the largest landslide in American history. Yes, I have that column on my bulletin board to remind me about the sin of hubris.
LAMB: Is that why you put it in the book?
QUINDLEN: It's not why I put it in the book. I put it in the book because it was a column that had many other things in it. But it's also useful to know when people have said things that they shouldn't have said because they thought they were taking the long view, only the long view in America only lasts about 60 to 90 days.
LAMB: You write a lot about abortion.
LAMB: What's the liberal position on abortion?
QUINDLEN: I think it is that that's a matter of individual choice and personal liberty.
LAMB: Do you still practice your Catholicism?
QUINDLEN: Yes, I do.
LAMB: How do get along with your view on abortion and the church now?
QUINDLEN: Well, I don't really think of myself as having a relationship with the institutional church; that is, the hierarchy. But in terms of my own conscience and my ability to feel confident about taking the sacraments and my relationship with God, I don't have any problem with that.
LAMB: As a liberal, what do you think of Bill Clinton?
QUINDLEN: As a liberal, I like lots of what Bill Clinton has done so far. But I worry when he seems to be too worried about making everyone like him, without exception. So that I was saddened by his decision to do with the Haitian refugees exactly what the Bush administration had done, which is to send them back home without giving them a fair hearing on political asylum. And I think he needs to press harder on removing the HIV exclusion for immigrants and refugees coming to this country.
But on abortion, certainly I think he's done very, very well since he's been president in a very non-histrionic and matter-of-fact sort of way. And on his economic plan, I think he has really succeeded in focusing the attention of the country on deficit reduction. Now he's going to have to come up with much larger spending cuts to go with that focus.
LAMB: Is he a liberal?
QUINDLEN: Yes. He's not as liberal as I am though.
LAMB: And other than what you just mentioned, how would you – I mean, what's the difference?
QUINDLEN: I think – I think every indication about Governor Clinton was that he can be extremely pragmatic and that sometimes he is willing to shave a little bit off the principle and to do what works.
He's also not been loath to carry out the death penalty in Arkansas, and we part company in a major way there. I think probably because of the job I do, I have the luxury of being a little more of an ivory tower liberal than he gets to be.
LAMB: On race: What does it mean to be liberal?
QUINDLEN: Well, on race, I think what it means to be human is that you're just fair to everybody, regardless of the circumstances under which they were born and the attributes they have.
But I think what it means to be liberal is that you understand that there is an unmistakable synergy between race and poverty in this country and that, therefore, many of the things that come with poverty devolve disproportionately on African-Americans and Latinos. And that it's important for government to take that particular bull by the horns in terms of social services, in terms of schools and in terms of how it handles all aspects of crime prevention and the poor neighbors in which crime is disproportionately played out and in which it's disproportionately black people who are the victims.
LAMB: On health care: What's it mean to be liberal?
QUINDLEN: I think it – it means that you believe that there should be a national health-care policy that provides some reasonable level of health insurance for all of our citizens.
LAMB: Are most columnists in this country in newspapers liberal or conservative?
QUINDLEN: I think many more are liberal than conservative. When you talk to people who are trying to decide what syndicated columnist to put on their page, they'll tell you that – that – that they have a much easier time finding liberal men than they do finding conservative men, women or black columnists.
In fact, someone only half in jest asked me one day if I knew of anyone writing in the United States who was a conservative African-American woman columnist. And I had to tell them that I didn't and I was not sure I would because people generally don't act against self-interest.
LAMB: What's the difference between the way you write almost every week in your columns and the editorial position of The New York Times?
QUINDLEN: Well, first of all, the editorial position of The New York Times relies a good deal on conversation and consensus. I was saying today that I wish there was a better way to let the readers know how we do what we do, because it's really fascinating. I mean, they get these 10 or 12 people around a big table and – and some of them know everything about certain subjects.
And they bat ideas back and forth. And there's a great deal of disagreement and a great deal of two-cents thrown in. And out of this, we cobble together a series of editorials every day, which are then looked over and refined by the editorial page editor. So it's much more of a collaborative process. Whereas what I do is very much, you know, the sound of one woman clapping, as it were.
LAMB: Do you sit on the editorial board?
QUINDLEN: No, I don't.
LAMB: Do you sit in on the meetings?
QUINDLEN: I can if I want to, but I haven't for a while. I did for the first few months that I was – that I was writing my column and I'm welcome to drop in any time, but in general I don't.
LAMB: If you weren't a woman, would you be a columnist for The New York Times, in your opinion?
QUINDLEN: I don't know the answer to that. I think there are many jobs that I held at The Times for which I was moved forward quite quickly because there was inadequate representation by women in a particular area, and that one job led to another and led to another and led to another.
Given my background and given the other things I've done at the paper, it wasn't really going too far a field for the publisher to offer me an op-ed page column. But one job after another was a job in which I was the first woman and I think at a comparatively young age, and I'm not sure that would have happened if it hadn't of been for gender.
LAMB: You went to The Times in "77.
LAMB: The New York Times.
LAMB: How did it progress to the time that you got your column?
QUINDLEN: I started out as a general assignment reporter, just covering whatever came up that day, which is a terrific job. And then in – I guess it was 1978 – I have a hard time keeping track of it – I covered the first two years of the Koch administration down at City Hall.
And then when I came back up to work in the office again, I was given a column to write called About New York, which is an old traditional column at The New York Times in which you write twice a week – a reporting column in which you write twice a week about anything you care to about New York City.
And I left that column because I became deputy metropolitan editor of the paper. And I left as deputy metropolitan editor because in the space of about two years, I had two children who were quite close in age and I felt that it would be impossible for me to have a full-time job at the paper and still spend as much time as I wanted with my children. I felt like I'd be missing all the good stuff at home.
So six months after our second son was born, Abe Rosenthal asked me if I wanted to do a once-a-week column to keep my hand in and that was the column called Life In The 30s. And I did that for three years and ended that because I gave birth to our third child. There's a pattern emerging here. And when I was deciding to leave the paper at that point, because I thought I sort of topped out, the publisher offered me the op-ed page column.
LAMB: Could you still write a column about life in the 30s?
QUINDLEN: No, I couldn't. I'll be 41 in July.
LAMB: How old are you children?
QUINDLEN: My children are nine, seven and four.
LAMB: Their gender?
QUINDLEN: I have two sons, the nine-year-old and the seven-year-old, and then a daughter.
LAMB: How do you and your husband do it now? How do you – what kind of a day do you have?
QUINDLEN: Well, we have a baby-sitter who comes in every day at about 9:00. I take the three children to school first thing in the morning and then I'm usually back home by quarter till 9.00, 9:00 o'clock, which is when Elaine, our sitter gets there.
And I usually work pretty much non-stop from 9.00 until 3:30 or 4.00. Some days, Elaine goes and picks the kids up; some days I do. And then usually I'll knock off then and be with them from 4.00 till about 8.00 or 8:30 when they head to bed. And then on certain evenings, I'll work for another hour or two, sometimes three. And on other evenings, I'll just sort of collapse and read.
Since my husband is so often trying cases, he works much longer hours than that and so he spends less time with the kids during the week, although both of us sort of have an inviolate weekend time. I don't do any sort of work-related thing except to go over my column on Saturday with the copy editor. And from Friday afternoon till Monday morning, it's basically just the five of us together.
LAMB: I'm not looking for the address, but where do you live?
QUINDLEN: We live in Hoboken.
LAMB: So you live in New Jersey.
QUINDLEN: Right across the river from Manhattan.
LAMB: How often do you go in to The New York Times?
QUINDLEN: I usually go in once every two weeks or so to look over my mail and see what my assistant thinks I need to take care of over the long term. But I do an enormous amount of business by modem on my computer.
I can get the wires now on my computer at home and send memos back and forth to various people in the office, and so the technology has freed me up to spend most of my work time in my home office.
LAMB: How many words do you write for each column?
QUINDLEN: About 760, 770, depending on how long the words are and whether I've got a little more or a little less space that day.
LAMB: Whose got the last word on what goes in that column?
QUINDLEN: I do. No one except for the copy editor, who generally handles things like punctuation or length, sees our columns until they actually go in the paper. So there's no veto power by anyone except for your own good sense and judgment. We even write our own headlines for our columns.
LAMB: Oh, you do?
QUINDLEN: Oh, yes, which is – it should be pretty clear, too, if you read Mr. Safire’s headlines. He's sort of famous for pushing to the limit, the pun-ability. I remember, he wrote one not too long ago about Paul Tsongas. It was about the womanizing question, the bad conduct – no, the womanizing question something else and Paul Tsongas, and it was called Wine, Women, and Tsong – T - S-O-N-G.
I almost called them and said, "All right, you win this year."
LAMB: What about your column though that goes – that would be on New York Times, do you also write those headlines?
QUINDLEN: No, they do that themselves. But there are times when what you see on the Times op-ed page, we've done our headlines ourselves.
LAMB: Is that – how long has that been a tradition?
QUINDLEN: As long as I know of. I mean, I got to tell you, I have never been blind side in my life as when I filed my first column. And after I filed this copy, editor called my and said, "What's your headline?" Wait a minute. I don't write headlines. Editors write headlines. But once I got used to it, I got to really like it.
LAMB: And what about the people that write op-ed pieces, do they get to write their headlines, too?
QUINDLEN: No, they don't. They don't. It's just us. I guess the feeling is that we're so completely independent that every step of the product ought to belong to us.
LAMB: How many columnists are there that write regularly for the New York Times?
QUINDLEN: There are six of us now. We're short one since Mr. Wicker retired in January.
LAMB: And if you were to try to define what it takes to get to be a columnist for the New York Times, what would go into that package?
QUINDLEN: Well, I certainly think it's helpful if you have a good deal of reporting experience and a career in the newspaper business. But Mr. Safire pursue that's not necessary because before he came to us, he work for Richard Nixon.
I think the most important thing a columnist really needs is a clear voice, an identifiable way of speaking to the readers and looking at the world and a real ability, not necessarily to take lemons and make lemonade but sometime to take a little bit of strength from here and a little bit of strength from there and that weaving altogether in the whole cloth.
It's quite a different skill than being a really good reporter or a really good writer because of the self-starting aspect of it. I mean, no one calls you on a Monday morning and says, "For Wednesday do a column about this and for Sunday do a column about that." It all has to come from whatever motivates you.
LAMB: And do you talk, too, when you want to talk to somebody about ideas?
QUINDLEN: I talk to my friends a lot. I have a lot of friends who are in the business who are reporters and I tend to talk to them almost every morning about what's going on in the news, about things that we've heard and read, that kind of thing. And I am forever picking the brains of our reporters who are absolutely great about it, you know.
I mean, if I – if I want to write something about the Supreme Court selection process, I think, I just get Linda Greenhouse on the phone so fast because she know so much and she's so smart about the issues surrounding her beat that I could never go wrong. You know, if I want to write about the home list or child welfare policy in New York City, I call Celia Dugger who covers that for us and she has a million different contacts right on the tips of her fingers.
So – I mean, given how good our staff is, there's a hundred terrific brains to pick.
LAMB: Is there somebody, your friend or somebody who work with that always calls you the day that a column hits the street and reacts to what you've written?
QUINDLEN: Yes. My best friend will do that and my husband does that most of the time, maybe not first thing in the morning because he knows I’m a little fragile sometimes first thing in the morning.
LAMB: What was that word then?
QUINDLEN: Well, after having written all day Tuesday and got into a lather about something, I'm usually a little – a little still head up about the subject and I don't want to hear about what I did wrong with it if I did. So that it's usually over dinner on Wednesday night that Jerry will say, "You know, you made a good point in that column about Clinton but I don't think you took into account X, Y, or Z."
I may still get sort of, you know, chin up about that, but I hear it more at dinner time than I do in the morning. But my best friend, Janet Maslin, who's a film critic at the New York Times is somebody who weighs in with me practically every time I write, in fact, practically every morning.
LAMB: Now, what do they say to you that is the most helpful? Or when do you know that you really hit it and when do you know that you've missed it?
QUINDLEN: Because when I've really hit it, they say, "Boy, did you hit it on that column" I mean, my husband will say to me, "Boy, good column today," you know. And he's sparing enough with that. He's a harsh enough judge that I know that I really hit it when he said that – says that.
And I don't know is often when I've missed it except that sometimes he'll be a somewhat deafening silence about the larger point of the column. Sometimes someone will say to me, "Gee, that’s a good analogy that you use." And then I think, "But what about the whole thing?"
But oftentimes, if I've missed it, I know I've missed it. And then in a couple of days, the readers tell you. I mean, if you've written something that's particularly effective even given the fact that you hear much more often about people who don't like the column then people who like it.
If you've really hit it out the park, the readers will write into you and say, "Boy, you know, I really like your column on that one," and that's a wonderful feeling.
LAMB: What do you notice happening to you – are you three years plus into this column, a little television exposure, PrimeTime Live, and all that? People want you to come speak to them?
QUINDLEN: Yes. I give – I give usually one or two speeches a month but I like that as much for what I learn as I do for me giving me a speech because, you know, in terms of the questions that get asked or the things that people talk to me and say afterwards, you can get a real good sense of what America is thinking.
When the campaign was going on and I was out giving speeches, a lot of times, you know, I got is good material from the audience in terms of future columns that they ever got from me.
LAMB: Where do you think you get – what's the best source for you on columns?
QUINDLEN: Page one of the newspaper, a lot of times. I mean, a lot of times, you just write off the news because what's happening is the only game in town. I mean, there will come a day in the next couple of weeks, months, whatever when there'll be some sort of decision about gays in the military. And for at least a couple of days, all anybody will be talking about is that decision.
Actually, you know, for the last several months, you could have written about that at anytime because it's so much in the air. During something like the Anita Hill testimony before the Judiciary Committee, you could not write enough of that story. It was all anybody was thinking about.
So frequently, you get it from the news, but some of it isn't – is when you how to read the news and how to bring together disparate parts. I mean, so recently I wrote about the Lakewood High School Spur Posse, the guys who were keeping track of how many girls in their school they go into bed with as a measure of sort of their gang worth.
And it seemed – it seemed obvious to me to put that together with the case in Glen Ridge New Jersey of high school athletes who were convicted of having sexually assaulted a neighborhood retarded girl. So that's sometimes something will seem like a good idea for column but it gets to be a much better idea if after a week or two there's two or three other things that can make the same point in tandem with that.
LAMB: Did you believe everything that Anita Hill said?
QUINDLEN: I believe most to what Anita Hill said, yes.
LAMB: Most? What didn't you believe?
QUINDLEN: Sometimes I thought that she might be confused about times and dates about what she'd said to people when which I think is perfectly natural given the amount of time that it elapsed between the events and the time that she was testifying and the enormous issue was under.
But I found the central accusations that she leveled against him rather credible. It's not an exact sign, I mean, that's – sometimes people say to me, "How did you know?" I guess I knew in the same way that sitting in the jury room or sitting in a court room hearing two wildly different versions of the same acts, you decide that one person is telling the truth and the other person isn't for some reason.
LAMB: Did you believe anything that Clarence Thomas said?
QUINDLEN: I believe a lot that Clarence Thomas said but not about his relationship with Anita Hill particularly although I think that he certainly may have thought that their relationship was considerably different that she did. I mean, it's not uncommon for people who get into this kind of situation to see it very differently depending on who's on the power position, who's not, who's saying what to who.
LAMB: On the back of your book, Alice Hoffman says, Anna Quindlen is a national treasure. Did you pick that?
QUINDLEN: No, I didn't. I mean, I thought it was terribly nice of Alice Hoffman to say it, but I've taken a lot of ribbing about being a national treasure and…
LAMB: Who is she?
QUINDLEN: She's a novelist who writes just wonderful, wonderful books.
LAMB: What have you taken a lot of ribbing?
QUINDLEN: Well, you know, my husband will say to me, "Oh, how's the national treasure this morning?" And things like that, it makes you feel sort of foolish
LAMB: New York Magazine says you're the laureate of real life.
LAMB: Do you like that one?
QUINDLEN: I mean, it's sort of – it's sort of strange to have people see you in that way particularly if you spent your whole life being the reporter who sees things written like that about other people and either gives them credence or dismisses some. I continued to be very uncomfortable on the wrong side of the notebook.
LAMB: Your own newspaper is quoted as saying Anna Quindlen's column has been a twice-weekly argument that public issues have an impact both philosophical and visceral on individual citizens.
QUINDLEN: Well, you know, I really like that description. That was a description they wrote when I won the Pulitzer last year. And I thought that was a pretty nice way of describing what I tried to do in the column and when I do do when I'm at my best.
LAMB: Who's Susan Isaacs?
QUINDLEN: She's a fiction writer, novelist.
LAMB: And she says, "What a writer."
QUINDLEN: What a writer. That's a nice feeling. It's a nice feeling to think that, you know, people think you're doing it well because 95 percent in your life is spent in front of this computer screen thinking, "Is anyone reading this stuff?" You know, so.
LAMB: How do you know when someone is reading it?
QUINDLEN: A volume of mail often tells you.
LAMB: What's the biggest volume you've ever gotten?
QUINDLEN: I think during the Anita Hill testimony we got a huge volume of mail, but there are certain issues that will set certain people off. I get – I still always get a lot of mail on abortion and I get a lot of mail on gay rights.
LAMB: Can you ever think of column you wrote that you were excited about that just landed like a big thud?
QUINDLEN: Oh, yes. There are columns that I've just really been very pleased with and maybe we got, like, two or three letters from somebody saying they were good. But you know, it's funny, the columns that I can think of that I felt that way about, when I went back and reread them, I still felt that way about.
The first column in this book is called The Old Block, and it's about going back to my – the house where my father grew up in West Philadelphia, which is a very impoverished and battered neighborhood now. And going to see it, it's all burnt out and boarded up now, the little house where he and his brothers and sisters grew up.
And I loved that column. I just felt like, you know I really – I really hit it right on the writing. And nobody else much seemed to care, but I still liked it.
LAMB: What kind of schools do you have your kids in?
QUINDLEN: My kids go to private school in New York City.
LAMB: And why do you have them in private instead of public?
QUINDLEN: The public schools where we live we didn't think were as good as they could be, and the private schools that we looked at in New York were so wonderful that we didn't hesitate for a moment. I'm largely the product of private schools, and so unlike all my friends who like to say, "I went to public school and I want my kid to go to public school," I really feel like I did very, very well in private schools and that they were then what they tend to be now, which is consumer responsive.
The parents can effect change and have the school mirror their hopes and dreams for their kids' education. The problem is that, of course, our public schools ought to be consumer responsive, too, and too often they're not. But we just wanted what we thought was the best school for our kids and it happened to be a private school.
LAMB: What's the liberal position then on things like choice and the public schools?
QUINDLEN: School choice?
QUINDLEN: I think school choice is sort of a scam, to be perfectly honest with you, because the people who know how to play the system, overwhelmingly the middle class, will know how to play the system in terms of finding the right school and getting their kids where it's best for them. And the people who always get left out in the cold, in my opinion – the poor – are going to still be left out in the cold.
Their neighborhood schools aren't going to get any better because maybe people will say, "Well, you know, nobody chose that one." And meantime, schools that are magnet schools or that are in more well-to-do neighborhoods that people pick out for their children are going to, I think, thrive because you're going to have parents who are highly motivated who send their kids there.
So I think there ought to be a choice. Every parent ought to push for a choice for a school in their neighborhood that's a fine school for their kids. And I think we got to start with the schools in poor neighborhoods which are letting so many kids down.
LAMB: How old were you when you first started writing a column, I mean, for this column?
QUINDLEN: This column?
QUINDLEN: I was 37.
LAMB: Is that the youngest person who's ever started writing a column for…
QUINDLEN: Russell started – Russell Baker started when he was 37, too, and we've never quite bothered to figure out which one of us was youngest at the time. Makes me feel like I'm in excellent company.
LAMB: Can you see yourself still writing a column 30 years from now?
QUINDLEN: I can't. In my case, I don't think it would serve me or serve the reader. I feel like sometimes, columnists outstay their welcome, and that I want to be as fresh and as passionate and as on top of my form when I write my last column as I was when I wrote my first one. So I can't imagine that I can last that long.
LAMB: What else do you want to do in this profession?
QUINDLEN: I don't know the answer to that. I mean, I love writing fiction. I love writing novels and I could see doing that full-time, but, boy, newspapers have always made my heart go thump, thump, thump, and it's hard to think about giving them up. So I can't really answer. I can't go back to being a street reporter, because it would be real hard to ask the readers to accept me as a third person objective again on a whole variety of stories and issues. But I don't really know what comes next for me.
LAMB: Your kids getting trained in reading a newspaper?
QUINDLEN: Yes, my kids are pretty good about that, actually. Although my oldest has developed a certain reputation in current events. They have to take out a story every week and tell the whole class about it.
And last week on Grandparents Day, all the grandparents were treated to an explication by my eldest son of Marla Maples' pregnancy, which the teacher thought was perfectly – all of one piece with his previous performances, which have included two stories about Amy Fisher, so I have a feeling that if he winds up in my business, he's going to wind up on a tabloid paper.
LAMB: Now, you haven't had any influence at all on him, have you, on this kind of stuff?
QUINDLEN: I don't know about on that. I've had considerable influence on him, but I would have urged him to pick something a bit more newsy.
LAMB: You write a column in here about Lee Atwater and Robert McNamara.
QUINDLEN: Oh, boy. I just was so struck by two pieces that came out at the same time. There was a piece about Atwater in Life magazine when he was sick, maybe six months before he died. The pictures were dreadful to look at because from the therapy for his brain tumor, he was so bloated. He wasn't even recognizable.
And in the course of the piece, he expressed really profound regret about some of the tactics that he'd used to get candidates elected. He talked about how he wanted to apologize to Michael Dukakis. And he said that sometimes when his little daughters wanted to get his attention, they'd pretend to be interviewing him for television.
I think that same week that I saw that, Time magazine had an interview with McNamara who expressed profound regret about the course of the Vietnam War and also said – when he was asked, "Who really knew him?" that he couldn't really answer that question and that he couldn't say that his children did and that that was a hard thing to have to admit.
It was a combination of the deep regrets about personal decisions that had irrevocably shaped public policy in this country, and the sense on the part of both of those men that they had somehow missed out with their own children; that seemed to me to be so compelling and to say something about how macho can leave you cold and lonely after your days of power and influence are done.
LAMB: When you look ahead, what do you see in this country?
QUINDLEN: Oh, gosh, that's a tough question. I'm always amazed at the ability of Americans to bounce back from almost anything, and on the micro level, to do the right thing.
You know, so often we look at the macro level at which people are calling in, saying, you know, that gay people shouldn't be allowed in the military, they should be taken out and shot or that – you know, Hillary ought to get back in the kitchen, although, in fact, the polls are showing great approval for Mrs. Clinton's performance, and I feel that way about it – how she's done, but on a micro level, in their own communities, you see how people take care of each other and worry about each other.
And when I travel around America, I always come back home optimistic about the future because I feel that so many of the people I meet are basically good at heart and still really want to hang a welcome sign out in this country despite all the things we hear to the contrary.
LAMB: Is this country better or worse than it was when you got to New York in 1970?
QUINDLEN: In some ways, it's much, much worse, for people who live in the cities, for the poor, for people trying to make due on just one income, for people who want upward mobility for their children, which really seems like an impossibility.
But I got to the city in 1970, and overall, since then, things have become much, much better for women – a profound change in a lot of ways that has directly affected the course of my life.
I mean, so many of the things that we were arguing about as possible for women then, in a way that made us seem like crazed radicals, are now taken for granted in America today; that there's nothing strange about a woman in the pulpit; there's nothing strange about a woman in the precinct house; that there's nothing strange about a little girl pitching in Little League; that there's nothing strange about women in the Senate and hopefully that there's going to be more and more of them all the time.
So things have changed greatly for the better for women in this country. But some things in this country are clearly much, much tougher than they were 20-some years ago.
LAMB: In your lifetime, will you ever see a woman editor of The New York Times?
QUINDLEN: Executive editor? The whole schmear?
LAMB: What's it going to take?
QUINDLEN: The right woman.
LAMB: Is there one there at the paper now?
QUINDLEN: I'm not entirely sure of that. I certainly think there's any number of people I know who would be good candidates and who are certainly as good as the male candidates. But it's always an odd combination of being in the right place at the right time, whenever the right time happens to be and being the right person for the job.
I mean, I always think at any given time, there's maybe half a dozen people who could run The New York Times well. It depends on what the paper needs at any particular point in time. But I certainly think it's coming soon. I don't know how soon.
LAMB: In the event that somebody's watching this is saying, "What's the big deal about having a column in The New York Times?" They don't live in New York; they don't read it. But what would you tell them?
QUINDLEN: Well, that millions of people read you every time you appear; that some of them are people who are in a position to change some of the injustices that you're writing about; that some of them are people who are in a position to give money to some of the good causes that you write about; and that maybe you can affect the national discourse by changing or just moving a little bit along the way we talk about certain key issues.
LAMB: Anybody important ever call you on the phone after one of these columns comes out?
QUINDLEN: Oh, members of the Senate will call me from time to time because the column is about something that they're keenly interested in, writers and foundation heads, people like that – lots of those people will write to me.
I remember one day my assistant called me and she was very, very excited and she said, "Paul Simon wrote you a letter. Paul Simon really liked your column today." And I said, "Oh, that's great." And we hung up and then I called her back and said, "The singer or the senator?" It was the senator.
LAMB: At the very end of your book in one of these columns, you write that, "She gave me my anger back." Who's the she?
QUINDLEN: My daughter. It's a column I wrote from Maria's second birthday.
LAMB: Why did you want your anger back?
QUINDLEN: Because I think when you first experience sex discrimination and when you first understand that in many ways, things are tougher in the world for women than for many men, you learn how to deal – I mean, either that or you can walk around incredibly angry and not particularly useful all the time.
And so I got used to some of the way things was. It's the equivalent in the office of picking your fights in terms of somebody who might make an inappropriate remark or say something sexist. But once I had this little girl who was incredibly feisty and incredibly strong willed and incredibly smart, I just thought, I cannot pass along to her exactly the same world that I got and say to her, "Oh, you know – you know, these bad things, you know, date, rape, and sexual harassment and the glass ceiling, don't worry. You'll get used to them as time goes by."
I mean, I just love her so much and I want her to have so many good opportunities open for her that all over again, I looked at the world and said, "You can't do this to my daughter."
LAMB: How old is she?
QUINDLEN: She's four now.
LAMB: How's she doing?
QUINDLEN: I'll tell you, she could either, you know, manage the Yankees or run the White House or – she's just an incredibly strong willed and feisty little girl. And I have a lot of admiration for her. And I want to do my best to see that she hangs on to that sense that she's a pretty important person.
LAMB: Does she read your column?
QUINDLEN: No, she can't read yet. But she's in the stage where she pretends to be able to read.
LAMB: This is what the cover of the book looks like, it's a group of columns written by Anna Quindlen and the title of the book is, Thinking Out Loud. Thank you very much for joining us.
QUINDLEN: Thank you. .
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