Friday, October 26, 2012

Austin Chronicle :: Let the People In

Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards
By Jan Reid
The Austin Chronicle interviews Jan Reid, author of Let the People In.

Austin Chronicle: You were writing about someone whom you knew fairly well and admired – did that present special problems?

Jan Reid: I had to be as hard on her as I could, because if I didn't, it just wouldn't be honest – if I did some kind of fluff piece. So I just tried to be as thorough as I could be, and just got into the character – and oh, what a character she was.

When she died, Evan Smith at Texas Monthly called me and said, I want you to write the memorial – with some ridiculously short deadline like four days or something like that – so I couldn't get lost. People that liked her liked that piece, and I was pretty gratified by that. ... [Later] I found out that Richards had given this incredible archive to what's now called the Briscoe Center for American History. ...

She had opened it up, she stipulated, a year and half after she died. She had opened it up, all of it; the only exceptions were a few death penalty cases and some personnel things; everything else was open. ... I couldn't look at all of it – you kind of learn the art of cherry-picking, checking the index and finding things. ...

I think some of the distance came because, I didn't know anything about her Dallas experiences, or her unpleasant experiences coming face-to-face with LBJ or Jimmy Carter, or being so close to the Kennedy assassination. When I found all that, and found myself writing, I had 200 pages and I hadn't even gotten her out of Dallas yet. ...

That was like writing about a fictional character. ... So I thought [it was] a great opportunity, and also a challenge to get to be able to write about the life of a woman like that. But it was also daunting.

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