Why I Do What I Do

(From a 1992 Interview, source unknown)

Gary Rivlin: "I don't know its source, but tacked above my desk is this quote: `The nonfiction writer's greatest task is to state complex social issues in human terms impossible to ignore.' It's there as a daily reminder so that I never lose sight of why it is I do what I do.

"My motivation in writing Fire on the Prairie: Chicago's Harold Washington and the Politics of Race was simple: I thought the story of Chicago during the Harold Washington years was the perfect vehicle for a lot of things I wanted to say about racial politics in this country. It was a particularly fascinating political time in the life of a particularly intriguing political city. It offered a story line rich with interesting characters and served as the perfect laboratory for examining race and racial politics. The racial fighting in Chicago was more charged than in other locales--the politics more polarized--but that meant a sharper lens for focusing on issues at work everywhere in our political culture.

"I see myself as a storyteller first and foremost. Yet I have as little patience for good writing devoid of content as I do for turgid political tracts that require determination and perseverance to finish. By introducing the reader to certain representative characters--learning what makes them think the way they do, and thereby revealing their philosophy--I hope to present the political analysis in an easy-to-digest format. I don't tell stories just to tell stories: there's always some issue, or issues, that I'm trying to highlight.

"I can't say for certain what drew me to nonfiction writing. I've told myself that I became a writer because it allows me to constantly learn and grow, but I'm sure my motivations are deeper than that, rooted in some psychological desire or need to communicate and be understood. I suppose the short answer to the question of how I ended up a writer is that I stuck with it."