Michele Norris, one of the hosts of NPR’s All Things Considered, told listeners at the end of Friday’s show that they wouldn’t be hearing her voice again until the fall. The reason for her absence, she said, is that she’s going on leave for the summer to work on a book of original, reported essays about race in America.
The book, which was handled by D.C.-based literary agent Gail Ross, will be published by Pantheon, an imprint of Random House, and edited by Errol McDonald. The tentative title is Say What?
Ms. Norris said in an interview today that the book will focus on the “hidden conversation on race” that has been taking place in this country since the start of the 2008 presidential campaign. One chapter of the book will focus on the way race is addressed in Hollywood movies, she said; another will focus on “the way black men view themselves.”
“People talk about race one way in public and they often—not always but often– talk about it in a different way and at a different tempo in the private sphere,” Ms. Norris said. “And I just want to pull back the curtain a little bit.”
Ms. Norris said the idea for the book came out of a series of three group discussions on race that she and Morning Edition’s Steve Inskeep led in the fall featuring a diverse group of people living in York, Pennsylvania.
“People started talking about race in a different way,” Ms. Norris said. “It’s my belief that this has happened in large part because of the campaign and now because of the presidency. Maybe it will continue but I don’t know that it will. With the book, I’m trying to capture the conversation in this moment: how people talk about race, how people think about race, and how people approach subjects that involve race, and how that’s changed.”
Ms. Norris said she’ll spend the summer traveling and talking to people around the country. Her first stop: Alabama, where she’ll conduct interviews with some of her own family members.
“It’s hard for me to reach out and penetrate the private space when I’m sitting in studio 2A, because the best I can do is talk to someone on the phone,” she said. “The conversation in York proved it was possible, but you have to go to it—it doesn’t come to you.”
Many of the people she’ll be interviewing, she said, are people she has spoken to in the past for segments on All Things Considered, where she has been a host since 2002.
Anna Christopher, a spokeswoman for NPR, said Ms. Norris will return to the air in mid-September. From July 13 until August 14, her co-hosts Melissa Block and Robert Siegel will be joined by California-based radio journalist Madeline Brand, whose show Day to Day was canceled last December amid cost-cutting at NPR.