Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Terry Anderson and the Truth

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Terry Anderson and the Truth

Article excerpt


Spreading the news: An appreciation of the light that shines in our darkest hours in chains, figuratively and literally

This is a story about how poetry brought for-mer hostage Terry Anderson to Ohio University. It is also a story about family, loss, and redemption -- topics reporters cover daily but often overlook in themselves. In 1981, almost 10 years to the day before Anderson's release, my spouse and I were grieving over the loss of our infant, Erin Marie. The experience devastated us. Psychologists say losing a child has the emotional impact of a hostage experience. They are right. Anderson and I have more in common than pain. We were

competitors. In 1974, he joined The Associated Press and I was hired by United Press International. We were both bureau chiefs -- zealous about and defined by journalism -- and, in some sense, still are. But poetry brought us together in 1991 as he was fielding questions at a televised press conference after his release.

A reporter asked Anderson how he had survived. He did so, he replied, by reading the Bible and writing poems. The pack picked up on the Bible. I wondered if I had heard Anderson correctly. Then I did what Anderson would have done if our roles were reversed. I secured his address and began pestering him for an interview. Would he permit me to publish his poems in my Writer's Digest column?

He didn't answer the letter I sent. I wrote another. This time Anderson said he would reconsider -- perhaps in a year. He needed time with his family.

There are two types of reporters, I tell students: ones who get their stories and ones who lose their jobs. I got Anderson on the line at the Freedom Forum. Not only did we have a shared history as competitors, I reminded him, we knew many of the same people: Helen Thomas, former UPI White House bureau chief; Peter Arnett, Vietnam-era combat reporter; and Leon Daniel, Arnett's UPI competitor in Saigon -- just to name a few.

Anderson sounded disappointed: His book editor had read his poems, which didn't rhyme, and had called them "meditations." Would I look at a few? Certainly, I said. And I would share my own about journalism and poetry. Anderson read them and replied, "I had thought when I wrote my poems that nobody had ever written poetry about the news business. I'm glad to find I'm wrong."

Anderson granted permission to publish his poems. That made news in E&P's Jan. 2, 1993, issue, which noted that he "composed 32 poems during his captivity, but had the opportunity to write down only 11, which he wrote in a single hour on the day fellow hostages Thomas Sutherland and Terry Waite were released. …

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