Adrian Nicole LeBlanc examines her own motives

On Thursday 10 December, Adrian Nicole Leblanc will hold the third Gerard van Westerloo Lecture at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam. She is one of the authors interviewed in Robert Boynton’s influential book The New New Journalismeven though at the time she had only one book to her name. 

Foto: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur FoundationThat book, Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx,. was a veritable claim to fame. For 12 years she followed two gangster sweethearts from the Bronx and their families. At the time, Adrian deliberately chose to write herself out of the book. “It was only after the book was published and people started asking me how I related to my main characters, that I started to think about that.”

During the Gerard van Westerloo Lecture she will let us take a look at the other side of the story: herself, and her methods. How did she win the trust of her characters? What made them so compelling, why was it so hard for her to let them go? “I think journalists are often unaware of why they immerse themselves in a situation. For whatever reason, I need to be in this environment”.

It was only after the publication of Random Family that Adrian realised why she’d been so drawn to that rough area of the Bronx. “With the book about the Bronx it was – aside from any intellectual reasons, as wanting to write about social injustice – just one reason. There were secrets in my own family, who came as Italian immigrants to New York and also lived in the Bronx, secrets that were never shared. The book is actually a love letter to my mum, saying it is okay to be poor. I’m not sure I would have discovered that if the book hadn’t been such a success and I had been asked to talk about it so many times.”

Adrian is currently working on a book about three stand-up comedians. Although she is done with stand-up comedy for a while, she knows exactly why she was driven to spend so  much time on the subject: “It’s about how you say things that people don’t want to hear and make them keep listening.”

This book on stand-up comedy –in stores as of next year – also took her many years of reporting. What kind of book would she have written had she only had a few years, rather than eleven, to work on it? “I think even if you don’t have the opportunity to do research for a book for a decade, it is still useful to focus on a specific theme or topic and see your work as a body of work on that topic. If you know what your deeper quest is, it can make your work deeper and more satisfying.”

Gerard van Westerloo was a great admirer of LeBlanc, and his widow, Irene Houthuijs, tried from very early on to have LeBlanc  as a guest. Houthuijs will introduce LeBlanc during the event, and share with us why Van Westerloo was such a fan of her work.

The Gerard van Westerloo Lecture is a tribute to one of the founders of narrative journalism in the Netherlands. Gerard van Westerloo worked guided by four principles: he chose to portray everyday subjects rather than pressing problems, he hung around until he felt he had a complete picture, he chose to speak to the people that he wrote about, (without intermediaries!), and his interviewees got no coverage elsewhere.

Practical Information

Date and time: Thursday 10 December 20.30 – 22.00.
Location: Studio-zaal (5th floor), at Pakhuis de Zwijger , Piet Heinkade 181K, 1019 HC Amsterdam.

A recording of her lecture will be made available soon.