Today, the New York Times Magazine published a profile of Terry Gross, and it confirms my belief that Gross is amazing, wonderful, literally everything I want to be when I grow up.
Over the years, Gross has done some 13,000 interviews, and the sheer range of people she has spoken to, coupled with her intelligence and empathy, has given her the status of national interviewer. Think of it as a symbolic role, like the poet laureate — someone whose job it is to ask the questions, with a degree of art and honor.The article examines not just Gross but the interview format itself, and why we feel drawn to and comfortable with her as an interviewer, and specific memorable interviews that she has done.
The interview wish is as old as the form itself. Journalistic interviews in the United States increasingly began to appear in the 1860s. Before that, when reporters talked to people, they typically didn’t quote them. Once interviewing started, it became a craze. It had its own practitioners, often women, who were thought to be better at drawing people out. Henry James’s journalists were almost all ‘‘interviewers,’’ and his characters, like Selah Tarrant in ‘‘The Bostonians,’’ crave their scrutiny: ‘‘The wish of his soul was that he might be interviewed,’’ James wrote.
At first the interview was regarded as a particularly American phenomenon — pushy, but fair too, because it involved the cooperation of the interviewee, not just a sneaky reporter. The practice shifted radically after World War II. Television gained popularity — the age of the broadcast interviewer began. And psychoanalysis — that other great innovation in opening people up — was being practiced more widely.
Gross’s interviews have often been compared to therapy. That’s in part because of her seemingly neutral stance, but also because of the feeling of safety she gives her interviewees. Once in a while, a guest confesses to Gross that he’s confiding something for the very first time. ‘‘I don’t know that I’ve said that to anyone,’’ the ‘‘Project Runway’’ host Tim Gunn told Gross in 2014, of spending time in a psychiatric hospital as an adolescent. Gross’s response was as affecting as Gunn’s story. She handles confessions quietly, acknowledging the weight of what’s been said without drawing undue attention to it.I'm so interested in the way people fantasize about their interview with Gross. I sometimes imagine that conversation, but I naively assumed that was just me - I feel like my tiny, private world has been invaded by other people wishing they could have an interview with Gross too.
‘‘My No. 1 fantasy of all time is to be interviewed by Terry Gross.’’‘‘I have gone so far as to rehearse answers to specific questions. … ’’‘‘Every single time I hear a Terry Gross interview, I wonder what it would be like for her to do some research on me and do an interview.’’