My Magical Hour With Gloria Steinem

Melinda Henning and I had just said goodbye to Gloria Steinem as she walked out of the hotel suite on her way to her next meeting. We were at the San Miguel Writers Conference in Mexico, January, 2015. We hugged each other, and I began to cry. “I’m ready to die now, it doesn’t get any better than this,” I told Melinda.

Gloria Steinem is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met, from Carl Rogers on down. How this all came together is a very unlikely string of events.

Susan Page, who runs this yearly conference, invited me down with the possibility of interviewing Gloria, who was one of the headliners. I told Susan I’d be interested, but only if there was a possibility of greater exposure than just my web page.

I wrote up a description of how I would approach the interview and the questions I’d ask. Susan forwarded this to Gloria’s staff. There were lots of people in San Miguel who wanted to interview her, and her staff said she would grant just one interview, and that would be with me. Well, that did it.

I read three of her books and checked my video equipment. I was on my way.

The morning of the interview, I arrived at the hotel at 7:00AM. Mixup with the room. I finally got into the correct room at 7:45AM. It took me an hour to set up. Audio, and wireless Sennheiser mic. Natural light by the window. Tripod. Nikon D800 with a 70 – 300mm zoom lens, and a 20mm wide-angle lens. Extension cords. Fresh batteries. Even with all of this prep, as an amateur in this video business, I knew that many things could scuttle the interview. In addition to the setup and equipment challenges, the questions might have been off. Rapport may not have worked, etc., etc. The list of things to worry about went on and on.

The video gods smiled down that day. Everything worked perfectly, including our big finish. I’d seen an interview she did with Barbara Walters where she tap danced for Barbara, since she’d been a dancer in high school. At the end of the interview, I changed to my wide- angle lens as I suggested she might do that for us too. She agreed, and to my delight we ended our time together with a dance routine to “You Are My Sunshine.” I thought, surely this is the most thrilling and satisfying thing I have done in my 50-year career in communication.

 

I got back to my room about 9:00PM and put the SD card in my Mac. With a few color adjustments, it looked fabulous. As a 75-year-old man (then), I could rarely sleep for more than three or four hours at a time. That night, I conked out at 9:30PM and slept until 7:00AM, not even waking up to pee. The tensions of the day must’ve left my body.

 

 

 

 

Please take a look at this interview on Vimeo:

 

You’ll hear what this wise woman says about:

  • Listening to others in a circle, and how an electric fence stopped sex trafficking in Zambia.
  • How she stumbled into being a feminist leader.
  • How people can come together in a large audience.
  • Her grandmother being a suffragette.
  • Why the worst punishment is being misunderstood.
  • If she ever thought about throwing in the towel, to which she replied, “No, because I am the towel.”
  • How a prostitute became a lawyer due to reading Ms.magazine.

Watching the video again, I see what worked for me as the interviewer:

  • Active listening, which builds rapport and trust
  • Probing for examples, (something I learned from Terry Gross)
  • Focusing on her personal journey, not just her politics.

As Gloria was leaving, I was thinking about how I wanted people beyond my blog audience to see the interview. I asked her where she thought the interview might go. Without hesitation, she said “My archives at Smith College.” I got chills all over.

Thank you, Susan, for this opportunity of a lifetime.

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