Ted Conover: Free Behind Bars

I’m over at the Huffington Post, talking to Ted Conover (Routes of Man, Coyotes, Newjack etc.). You can read the full interview here. Below, a taste:

RF: While researching Rolling Nowhere, you jumped the freight trains, going from being distrusted and robbed by the hoboes you were writing about to making a place for yourself in their lives. In Coyotes, you had yourself smuggled across the Mexican/American border and worked on a ranch to experience life as an undocumented worker. In Newjack, you learned what it was like to be part of a mostly white corps of guards simultaneously in charge and in fear of a mostly black prison population. You cross the line between anthropologist/observer and active creator of narrative. How do you reconcile the tension between being an investigative journalist, a compassionate humanist and an ordinary guy with an exit-route built into the adventure?

TC: The tensions are part of what makes it interesting, and they don’t always get reconciled. My first-person character is very important to the story — I want readers to experience vicariously what I felt, whether it’s doing push-ups as punishment in the training academy, frisking a prisoner outside the mess hall or driving home on the day I got punched in the head. I studied anthropology and I practice ethnography; they inform much of my writing. But they take a back seat to the storytelling, to communicating with my readers. I try to be evenhanded in my descriptions — but participation lends a subjectivity that I think is important, that “keeps it real.”

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