Don’t dazzle; communicate: Three Questions with David Margolick


Your June interview with Nieman Storyboard is a master class in reporting and writing. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a writer?

Write what you see and feel: don’t censor yourself. But don’t indulge yourself, either. You’re not out to dazzle but to communicate and, with any luck, move. The fewer words, and even syllables, the better.

What’s been the biggest surprise of your writing life?

David Margolick
Photo by Lawrence Schiller

That editors will not only run what I write, but actually like and want it. I still feel that whenever something that pleases me appears — or that a phrase I like has survived — I’ve pulled a fast one. 

If you had to use a metaphor to describe yourself as a writer, what would it be?

A workhorse. It’s never come easily to me, but with enough effort, I’ve usually —and eventually gotten the job done.

David Margolick is a veteran journalist and author. For many years he was a legal affairs reporter and columnist at The New York Times, for which he covered, among other stories, the trial of O.J. Simpson. He’s also been a long-time contributing editor at Vanity Fair, where he’s profiled Tony Blair, Benjamin Netanyahu, and many others. He is the author, most recently, of The Promise and the Dream: The Untold Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. His prior books include Dreadful: The Short Life and Gay Times of John Horne Burns; Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock, a study of the principal figures in the iconic photograph from the 1957 school desegregation crisis; Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink; Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song; and A Predator Priest. He has written for the New York Times Book Review, the New York Review of Books, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Guardian, and is currently writing books on Sid Caesar and Jonas Salk. 

May the writing go well.

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