NPR's Ari Shapiro tries to make the unfamiliar 'a little bit less strange'
NPR All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro has written a new book titled The Best Strangers in the World: Stories from a Life Spent Listening. It recounts his years as a correspondent, host — and the time he's spent moonlighting as a singer.
Shapiro recently joined KNKX All Things Considered host Emil Moffatt to discuss his book, ahead of his appearances Sunday, April 2 at Revolution Hall in Portland, Ore. and Monday, April 3 at Town Hall Seattle.
On finding interesting strangers.
I think I've just always been curious about people. I've always been nosy. My parents taught me when I was a kid growing up in Portland, Oregon, that the more you learn about the world, the more interesting life becomes. And so they would take me and my brothers out. Mushroom hunting or wildflower spotting (we never picked them). Or we would identify birds. And I realized that we were learning about the natural world, but we could just as easily have been learning about history or politics or anything. Life becomes richer when you look out the window, see a building, and know something about the architecture.
On how his experiences and identity shaped him as a reporter.
I think all of us carry identity with us, and that doesn't mean that we abandon the idea of objectivity. In my case, as I write it, in elementary school, I was one of the only Jewish kids in Fargo, North Dakota. And so I would go from classroom to classroom talking about what Hanukkah is. Every December, I would sort of take a menorah and a dreidel with me and explain Judaism. And then when I was a teenager in Portland, I came out of the closet at the age of 16 and was the only out queer kid at my school. And once again, I was sort of acting as an ambassador, an interpreter, a translator, trying to make the unfamiliar seem a little bit less strange. And the realization I had when I discovered journalism was that I can perform those same acts of translation and be a bridge to groups that I have no personal connection to beyond my journalistic interest in them.
On growing up in Portland (even though many people assume he’s an East Coaster).
Oh, I love being from the Pacific Northwest. I love that I get to go home to a city that I'm excited to visit and a part of the country that I miss when I'm not there because I have other friends who are from cities that they only visit because their parents still live there. I grew up hiking the Columbia River Gorge and skiing Mt. Hood and going to the coast and the culture of the Pacific Northwest. The food, the people. I think the Pacific Northwest tends not to “live for work”. They “work to live”. Those are all parts of my life that I still value deeply, even though I've lived in Washington, D.C., on and off now for more than 20 years. And when I come back to Portland and I see people walking down the street looking like stereotypical Portlanders with their facial hair and their body piercings and their tattoos, I think, even though I might not wear that externally, it feels like that's my tribe.
On Monday’s appearance at Town Hall Seattle, moderated by his brother, Dan.
He's stepping in to have a conversation with me about the book at Town Hall. It's going to be the only stop on this 11-city tour where a member of my family is leading the conversation. So I'm really looking forward to it. He promises me that my teenage niece and nephew are going to come up with some of the questions that he plans to ask. So it is going to be a stop unlike any other.