Thursday, March 17, 2016

Celebrate Our 40th Anniversary with Jim Lehrer

By Pamela Alston

On March 24, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., The Writer's Center is proud to present the TV journalist, debate moderator, and novelist with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Lehrer will be in conversation with Ron Charles, book critic at The Washington Post. Charles’s awards include the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award, the Nona Balakian Citation for book reviews, and 1st Place for A&E Coverage from the Society for Features Journalism in 2011. Registration is required for this special event: $15 for nonmembers; $10 for members, and tickets are nearly sold out. Please click to register.

Photo by Larry D. Moore
Jim Lehrer is a legendary journalist best known for his 38-year run on PBS. His rise to fame began in 1973, when, alongside his co-host, Robert MacNeil, Lehrer covered the Watergate hearings gavel to gavel. The show was awarded an Emmy for this unprecedented approach and later expanded to an hour-long news program, the first of its kind on television. When MacNeil retired in 1995, the show was renamed the “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” which he anchored until 2011. In 2003, the program won a George Foster Peabody Award for its coverage of American unemployment.

Lehrer's accolades as a journalist are practically innumerable, but not enough people know that Lehrer has also spent much of his life writing mystery novels and memoirs.He has penned more than 28 books, many of which draw from his personal experiences and interests in politics, history, and current events. 

In his latest, Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates (Random House, 2011)described by The Washington Post as “a brisk and engaging memoir”—Lehrer tells the inside story of what he calls the "major moments” that defined televised debates in front of the camera and behind the scenes with Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, and Obama. He reflects on his own personal experiences in interviews with the candidates and moderators, illuminating what he calls “killer questions” that defined the debates. 

White Widow (Random House, 1996) is novel based on the anchor’s family history—in particular, his father’s life as a bus driver and owner of a bus company. In this simple, yet classic tragedy, Master Operator Jack T. Oliver's fatal flaw—his attraction to a "white widow"—causes his fall from grace. Lehrer surprises readers with an easy-going pace that effectively contrasts with the calamities told in the story.

A number of his other books employ real-life events in compelling ways. The Last Debate (Random House, 1995) is a caustic, satirical analysis of presidential debates. Super (Random House, 2010), takes a look back in time to the year 1956, which involved three mysterious deaths: President Harry Truman, actor Clark Gable, and a movie-loving railway service agent. 

Lehrer is known as a passionate, no-nonsense novelist. In 2010, The Washington Post quoted the author as he recalled an interaction with an aspiring writer. “A young man came up to me at a book-signing once,” he recounts, and said, ‘Mr Lehrer, I’d write too, if only I could find the time.’"

Photo by Alan Kotok

Do you think you could write a page a day?

Oh, sure!

Well, at the end of 300 days, what would you have?

The youth looked puzzled, and then light broke over his face like morning—A novel?

The author was born in Wichita, Kansas, and attended Victoria College for an associate’s degree and then The University of Missouri for a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1956. He began his career in Dallas, Texas, as a public affairs executive before moving to Washington, D.C., where he started as a coordinator at the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and the rest is history. Today, Lehrer lives with his wife, Kate, and together they have three daughters and six grandchildren.

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