Eyal Press was a Nation intern in 1994. A contributing writer for the Nation, Press is the author of Absolute Convictions: My Father, a City, and the Conflict That Divided America and Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times. In this interview, Summer 2012 Nation intern Max Rivlin-Nadler talks to Eyal about his work.
1. What advice would you give to recent intern alumni, current interns, or future interns?
If you want to be a reporter, avoid office jobs that tie you up from 9 to 5, five days a week. And remember that surfing the Internet is not the same thing as reporting.
2. Between writing your books and freelancing a lot, do you have any passions or hobbies you've had to give up on?
I wish I'd had a lot more time to play tennis. Writing a book is fairly all-consuming, and my game has atrophied terribly as a consequence.
3. Has your writing been informed by your travels, or have you traveled to seek out certain stories?
A little of both. I was born in Israel and speak Hebrew, so writing about the Israel-Palestine conflict was kind of inevitable. I always wanted to write about the Balkans, and had the chance after spending half-a-year in Europe on a fellowship in 2008.
4. When did you know you wanted to write Beautiful Souls? Did it emerge from an article you wrote?
It emerged from a conversation with my agent. I told my agent I had this idea for a book but was afraid no publishers would be interested in it. My agent realized I was interested in it, and therefore encouraged me to pursue it. It was great advice.
5. How did the reporting in your first book Absolute Convictions [in which Press recounts his experience as the son of a Buffalo-area abortion provider] from the second? How does a personal relationship to the subject matter change your journalistic perspective?
The two books are actually about some of the same questions: How far should a person go to keep his or her conscience clean? Why do some people refuse to compromise their principles even in the face of enormous risk and danger? The less personal book seemed somewhat easier to write, but that may be because I wasn't a total novice anymore (it was my second book).
6. Has your reporting changed your political opinions?
Yes, and not always in the direction I anticipated or even desired. If this doesn't happen, chances are you've approached your subject with a closed mind, which likely means you're on the wrong beat.
7. What would be your ideal job? Do you have it?
Writing books and long-form pieces on subjects I care deeply about. Alas, there are about 10 people on the planet who have this job, and about 10 million who want it.