CNN anchor and award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien recently visited Target headquarters in Minneapolis to talk about the importance of diversity, Hispanic Heritage Month and her critically-acclaimed memoir, The Next Big Story: My Journey Through the Land of Possibilities.
Daughter of two immigrant parents, O’Brien spends her life traveling around the globe telling other people’s stories. This month, we had a chance to sit down and hear her story.
How did the idea behind your new book come to fruition?
Soledad O’Brien: I felt it was the right time to write a book. People asked me all the time about the stories behind the documentaries, like Black in America and Latino in America. And my perspective on those documentaries couldn’t be summarized into one sentence. It was an answer that involved my career and my upbringing. I also felt that there was so much negativity around opportunity in America today. I think America is the land of possibilities. It certainly was for my parents. I wanted to explore that theme.
How was writing a book that traces your own journey—professionally and personally? Did you ever find yourself wishing you could do something differently?
SO: I’m not a person who looks back nostalgically. I tend to move forward and into new projects and opportunities. So I don’t live with regret. Everything was what it was. Writing a book was a great opportunity to examine the impact stories, people, and experiences had on my work, life and perspective. There’s literally nothing I’d do differently!
You’re well known for your documentaries: Latino in America 2: In Her Corner; Black in America and Rescued; among others. Why, in your opinion, is storytelling through documentaries important?
SO: Storytelling through documentaries gives you more time to spend uncovering the nuances of a story or teasing out the contradictions. To get to “know” a person over time and tell his/her story as it unfolds is a true luxury and unusual in my business. It’s also a powerful way to tell stories – the degree to which you can really understand motivations and connect the dots of a story is critical.
You’ve tackled reporting and writing on African Americans, Hispanics, and Muslims in America—how do you decide whose story to tell?
SO: We decide based on the story and the people in the story. We do news documentaries, so we are often looking to something that’s going on in the news. For example, the clashes over Muslims building mosques across the country – we found one mosque in Tennessee to highlight that story. Almighty Debt, the third Black in America, reflects the terrible toll the economy is taking, disproportionately, on African Americans.
You recently visited Target to talk about Hispanic Heritage Month. Why is HHM important to you?
SO: I was invited to read from my book and talk about my multicultural background. I think Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to get a bunch of people with a shared background together in a room to talk about issues that matter to us. And maybe more importantly, to ask questions, be inspired and think about a future.
Photo courtesy of Savoy