Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
The art of immersion journalism is more complicated than going to a town meeting or interviewing a city mayor. It involves dedication and abandoning the comforts of our worlds and breaking the social boundaries we have adopted. For Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of “Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx,” this included visiting prisons, train rides to inner-city neighborhoods and introducing herself to known drug dealers.
Listening to LeBlanc speak to a University audience of around 80 in early April, it was hard not to wonder where her courage and determination came from. I could hardly imagine her approaching street kids with her small stature and wide smile, saying, “Hi, I’m Adrian. I’m a journalist and I want to write about your lives.” But maybe all it takes is the strength to ask the question, because for a true immersion journalist, neglecting to listen to the answer and holding back from asking more questions would be the bigger challenge.
LeBlanc said what was supposed to be “a small book by a young reporter… turned into a 12 year odyssey that left me broke and traumatized.” Twelve years sounds like a lifetime to me, imagining myself, like LeBlanc, immersed in the reality of her characters. I would chat with Trina and Coco about clothes and boys and whatever details their lives held that are unimaginable to me. Victor, the tough street boy, would escort me, like he did LeBlanc, to the train to make sure I was safe.
LeBlanc spoke to the audience honestly and vividly while describing her breaking point. Even though her book was honored as one of the best books of 2003 by more than 20 publications, she broke down while lost between the two worlds she reported on and lived in. She daily went from her daytime job at Seventeen Magazine, to the streets. She described the Seventeen-office elevator, dinging as the doors opened revealing the pink walls, to the broken elevators with hangers used to fix the buttons and families piled in because it wasn’t safe to leave the children in the apartment. She couldn’t ride both elevators; she couldn’t go back and forth any more.
“I couldn’t make the transition from the world I was reporting on and the world I was living in because it was just too jarring,” she said, and I imagined an undercover police agent revealing herself for the first time in years…. But probably not the odyssey of 12 years that LeBlanc was lost in.
-A list of links with reviews and interviews with LeBlanc.