Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Q&A with Susan Page


Photo by Hannah Gaber


Susan Page is the author of the new biography The Rulebreaker: The Life and Times of Barbara Walters. Page's other books include Madam Speaker. She is the Washington bureau chief of USA Today, and she lives in Washington, D.C.


Q: What inspired you to write a biography of Barbara Walters, and how was the book’s title chosen?


A: My first book was a biography of Barbara Bush (The Matriarch) and my second a biography of Nancy Pelosi (Madam Speaker). I didn’t start out with a master plan to write about women; I think that notion found me.


For my third book, I liked the idea of exploring the life of a remarkable woman in my line of work – and in journalism, the O.G. is definitely Barbara Walters.


It took a while to settle on the right title. It was my editor at Simon & Schuster, Priscilla Painton, who finally said, “I think she sounds like a rulebreaker.” And we had it!


Q: How did you research her life, and what did you learn that surprised you most?


A: Barbara Walters was in failing health when I started the book, so unfortunately I couldn’t interview her – although she knew I was working on it, and she didn’t put up any obstacles in my way.


Fortunately, she had lived her life out loud, so I had the benefit of hundreds of interviews she had done throughout her career, and of her memoir.


The biggest surprise: How her father’s attempted suicide, when she was 28 years old, was a pivot in her life, and a source of her ferocious drive.


Q: How would you compare Walters with Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Bush, the subjects of your other biographies?


A: All of them were bad-ass women of the Silent Generation. As they were growing up, none of them harbored any expectations of breaking new ground, of becoming iconic figures – and yet they all did, against the odds.


Q: How would you describe Walters’ legacy today? What impact do you think she had on the field of journalism?


A: Every woman in journalism, and especially in broadcast journalism, owes her a debt. She cut a path that made it easier for those who followed, and she had the scars to prove it.


She also pioneered the intersection of news and celebrity – for better or worse – and created a new form of talk TV. A quarter-century after she founded it, ABC’s The View is still creating controversy, making news and even affecting politics.  


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Let me ask your question with a question: Who would you like to read a biography of now? Any ideas?


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m indebted to people who publish books (thank you, Simon & Schuster) and who sell books (thank you, independent bookstores) and who review books (thank you, Deborah). And especially to those who read books. Thank you, all.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Susan Page.

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