Feedback is coming in...
47 Weeks to Publication
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last week talking to people that are contributing to the Tigerbelles project in various ways, hearing their thoughts on the project as a whole and the accuracy of the parts they are included in. The good news, the absolute fantastic news to my nerves, is that uniformly so far it appears that I have captured the essence of the story the way it is recalled. (Do you hear all the qualifiers I’m using? Is it to be fully believed?)
What this makes me feel, however, is the responsibility that I have to be honest and faithful to the legacy of those that I write about. There are so many that write for scandal, that write for attention. Facts and quotes gathered can be twisted and turned to favor any particular whim.
I understand why someone would be protective of their story when they know that as soon as it leaves their mouths, the use of it is completely out of their control. When a person has achieved a level of notability, they’ve by definition had to spend a lot of their time answering questions. Mostly, it’s the same questions over and over again by reporters or short form writers looking for a story, filling space in a newspaper or magazine, and after the story is in print, they have completely moved on.
For those of us that do the deeper dives, years of research, hundreds of pages and tens of thousands of words giving context and scope, our questions may be different. And the work will absolutely be different. So how, when we ask someone to share once again, how they felt in a moment, can we express that difference? What can we do to insure them that their story will be handled carefully, with honesty and integrity?
One very clear way I’ve been able to sense that I am earning a bit of trust is by knowing the facts. Every new interview I did, I could see a guarded face shift slightly when by my line of questions and responses it became clear that I had a good basis of understanding about the players and the place, and then again a shift occurred when they understood my angle. Maybe they know my angle is slightly biased in this case, but if I am biased it is in favor of this group of women whose story is so compelling it has drawn me into years of work.
I have become a fan. But I can’t just fan out. It is my job to back up my thesis with research and documentation. I’m a fan because the story is objectively heroic.
But I am also a writer, and therefore, in a group of people that may or may not have always respected their sources. I am here to say unequivocally that I am enduringly grateful and inspired by each of the people who answered the phone when I called, who agreed to sit down with me, who helped me do my best to share their story. I know it takes trust, and I am striving to live up to it with every page written and every detail included.
One of my favorite contributors isn’t even a Tigerbelle, but was the tag-along lone member from the men’s team that reached the same heights, Ralph Boston. I tracked down his number and called him without an introduction, asking not even about his own incredible story (I hope I get the chance to tell you more about him another time – wow!) but about the group of women that he often traveled with, his fellow Olympians from Tennessee State.
He was like their little brother and they treated him that way, but he was a force all of his own. He qualified for three consecutive Olympics and medaled in each of them. Earning what he called a full set, one bronze, one silver, and one gold.
I sent him a letter, explaining the project and who I am, then followed up the next week with a voice mail. A few minutes later a number popped up on my phone, Ralph Boston. I answered, I imagine, in a voice as excited as one of those people that called in for a radio contest when I was a kid. He said, what do you have going? I told him, and asked him if he’d like to set up a time to interview, and he said, how about now?
I scrambled, grabbed my recorder, and a notebook, put him on speaker and we proceeded to have a conversation for hours. He had so many great stories, he was open and honest, had me laughing and nearly in tears. In the end, when I could tell he was getting tired, I was stumbling to express my gratitude sufficiently and he actually thanked me for letting him walk back through those memories.
Ralph Boston, Edwina Temple, Barbara Murrell, Dwight Lewis, Howard Gentry, and so many others, I can’t thank you enough for spending the time with me and sharing your stories, and those that you witnessed. My greatest wish is that they reach the world in the manner they were shared, we will all be the better for it.
Until next week!