Oct 13 • 29M

#365: An interview with Mitchell S. Jackson, author of “Looking for Clarence Thomas”

This is writing at its highest level.

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Appears in this episode

Mark Isero
Why are there so many book clubs and so few article clubs? Let’s change that! Join The Highlighter Article Club, where we read, annotate, and discuss one outstanding article every month on race, education, or culture.
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I never forget how lucky I am to be doing Article Club. Not only have I met so many of you, and built a thoughtful reading community together, but I’ve also had the opportunity to interview the most talented authors out there.

Like, the most talented authors out there. (Here they are at a glance.)

This month is no exception. Some of you might say, It’s the pinnacle, actually.

That’s because Mitchell S. Jackson — the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Twelve Minutes and a Life” (please read it if you haven’t) — generously said yes to participating in an interview about his masterful recent article, “Looking for Clarence Thomas.” We’re discussing it on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2:00 - 3:30 pm PT. Join us!

Sign up for the discussion!

What do you do when you get to talk to someone whose work you deeply admire?

In my case, I get nervous. And prepare. And re-read. And annotate. And reach out to my friend and colleague Sarai Bordeaux and ask her to join. (She said yes, too.)

But it turns out, I didn’t need to be afraid at all. Mr. Jackson was kind and gracious from the start. He laughed that I insisted on calling him Mr. Jackson. And right from the first question, everything felt natural, like we were talking to a friend rather than to a famous writer whose prose is changing the canon (Sarai’s words, and I agree!) of longform nonfiction.

We talked about a number of topics, including:

  • how he didn’t want to write about Clarence Thomas at first

  • how his trip to Pin Point inspired the piece’s opening

  • how James Baldwin’s writing helped him understand Mr. Thomas, and

  • how Mr. Thomas is a man of deep contradictions, whose time on the Supreme Court has caused “dramatically malevolent things to wide swaths of Americans”

Most of all, though, Mr. Jackson talked about the craft of writing, how if he’s going to spend months on a feature story, he wants to push himself, he wants to break convention, he wants to do something new with form.

I’m very much concerned with the sentence. I’m almost concerned with the sentence over the story. And so the benefit of writing nonfiction is that, You don’t have to invent the scenes, but the kind of ethos of wanting to make beautiful sentences, that’s really what I want to do.

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I hope you take a listen, whether or not you’ve already read “Looking for Clarence Thomas.” I’d love to hear what you think of the conversation! Feel free to leave a comment here. What was thought provoking?

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