New Yorker editor David Remnick collects his essays from the magazine over the past 15 years in Reporting.
You say in your introduction that your subjects tend to be elusive. In what way do they elude?
These people come with press secretaries or from behind locked doors. They have the trappings of self-protection, and yet we want to know more about them. The question is how, journalistically, do you begin to understand them in a way that goes beyond the day-to-day news coverage.
Writing for the New Yorker, do you find that people are generally receptive to being profiled?
I think if you have the ability to offer someone space to express themselves, they're more relaxed.
Do you find, then, that when going deeper, your subjects become more reluctant to talk? More reticent?
In my experience as an editor, I've found that there are particular breeds that are more reticent with the New Yorker than other places because we try very hard not to be part of the machinery of publicity. So certain movie actors, for example, who are used to a certain level of questioning in order to produce the publicity required may not want to talk about their parents, or their failures, or to be caught off guard—not in a pernicious way, but in a way that actually resembles life as opposed to publicity.
How do you choose your subjects? Why did you choose boxing trainer Teddy Atlas over, say, Angelo Dundee?
First, I think Dundee's done. And his great claim to fame is his activity first with Muhammad Ali, then with Sugar Ray Leonard. What you live for, in some sense, are subjects who are great self-explainers. Some people are fascinating, but their expression of themselves is limited. Atlas is capable of telling his story cinematically. He's insightful about himself and he's thought about issues where fighting is concerned—about fear, for example—that I find relevant not just to boxing.
What was your interest in prominent Palistinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh?
I'm interested in people who hold out some sense of hope. When you're covering the Middle East, extremists are easy. But figures who suggest potential answers and reconciliations and hope are rare.
In this collection you write about Russia, Israel, boxing—what's the connection?
None. I'll tell you, though, the essays are autobiographical in the sense that that's where life and editors and circumstances have thrust me. My background is as a newspaper reporter for the Washington Post, and when I was a rookie sports reporter, the only sport available to me was this dying thing called boxing. My ethnic background takes in both Russia and Israel.