”I never considered myself a writer until the day I chaotically schlepped Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs onto easels and had a moment to pause.
At an awards dinner for my non-profit organization at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., I was in charge of the photo exhibit. I had just driven in from New York City where I braved driving for the first time in the city with more 27 famed photographs, completely panicked that I would get in a wreck. We set up our exhibit and I stood on the balcony to take a quick breath. To take it all in. Peter Osnos, an ICFJ board member, founder of PublicAffairs Books, and award-winning journalist, walked up to me to take in the view.
After some meticulously crafted small-talk about the organization and my gratitude for his help, he asked me what excited me about the photo exhibit I curated. “It was telling the story that no one sees; the story behind the photograph of the art and the craft,” I said. Simple, easy. He was curious about what my next career steps were and I muttered that I loved my role and was trying to figure out what’s next.
“You should be a writer. You remind me of Marjorie Williams. Maybe, if I send you some of her books, you’ll see it too,” he said as he smiled and walked away.
Of course, I didn’t write down the titles, but I knew Marjorie’s work well. She was a prolific writer whose skill in seeing the humanity of difficult situations knew no bounds. She wrote a weekly column for The Washington Post and her political profiles were raw and unyielding. She always saw the deeper, inner truth that lied below the surface – the one that no one wanted her to see. Her life was cut tragically short in 2005 at 47 to a three-year cancer battle, leaving a legacy with her husband, two children, and posthumous work that continues to inspire her colleagues and readers alike.
She was larger than life to me, a young upstart finding my way in Washington, D.C. I was baffled how Peter could put me and Marjorie in the same sentence.
I was surprised when Peter actually mailed me the books (sometimes it’s shocking when someone keeps their word). Quickly, Marjorie’s book “Reputation: Portraits in Power” resonated in a way that was unrelenting. Her ability to stand toe-to-toe with those who’ve graced the world’s stage and see the hidden truer stories that filled in the context around rough edges was unparalleled. It made me equally inspired by her craft and sad that I’d never get the chance to profile her someday.
Wait a second – record scratch. “I’ll never get the chance to profile her someday.”
These are how the seeds pop above the wet soil a few weeks after they’ve mustered the courage to see the sun.
Peter was right. There is hope for me in there, too. Even in 2009, in the midst of a nationwide recession and the precipice of hope of our country electing our first Black president.
I’d like to say that I took that advice and ran with it, but we’re sitting here more than 11 years later. I’m sure you can see how that inspiration spurred a quick leap of faith, tempered by failure, and shelved dreams for a decade. Nevertheless, the dream hasn’t died and I’m working toward making it a reality. If you ask me about my big manifestation, it would be to become a New York Times Bestselling author and to make Marjorie proud. Next, it would be to write a letter of thanks to Peter for seeing in me something I couldn’t imagine, and to Timothy Noah, Marjorie’s widow, who chose to publish the work that spurred me to move forward.
Maybe this is the beginning of that thank you letter. The remainder will be as a part of the book I want to breathe into existence. Time will tell.