'It Is Constant Work': Oprah on Staying Centered, Ambition, Letting Go-And Pajamas

Newsweek, January 8, 2001 | Go to article overview

'It Is Constant Work': Oprah on Staying Centered, Ambition, Letting Go-And Pajamas


For more than seven hours over three days, Oprah Winfrey gave a series of interviews to Newsweek's Lynette Clemetson. By turns upbeat and tearful, Winfrey spoke of a life full of failure and disappointment, as well as rewards and rejoicing. "People would be stunned to know how little calculation has gone into the creation of my life," she says.

CLEMETSON: What is it about you that people connect to?

WINFREY: The idea of being every woman. You know, like Chaka Khan sang, "I'm every woman. It's all in me."

What is your message now?

The message has always been the same: that you are responsible for your life. Now we've evolved into talking about how to live your best life. That's the theme of my magazine. That's also the intention of every show--to get people to take charge. To get people to realize that things are not just happening to them willy-nilly.

Your image has gotten a little tied up in the whole candle-lighting spiritual thing.

I know. I noticed that in the "Remembering Your Spirit" segments on the show. Regardless of who we're talking to, they have a candle lit. Every single person. There was a woman sitting beside the stove paying her bills, and there was a candle on the stove. Nobody pays their bills with a lit candle!

I saw a segment about a woman who was reconnecting with her spirit by fishing. She was casting her line with this euphoric look on her face. I mean, come on.

Get real, right? I'm with ya. We need to pull that back, so we don't end up being a caricature of ourselves. That sort of thing was good in the beginning, when we needed to spell out our message. But now let's evolve to the next level. Your holiest moments, most sacred moments, are often the ones that are the most painful. And we need to get with that. You know, feel some spirit when you're sitting there arguing with your husband and your children.

Do you think you were too involved, too controlling, in the early stages of the magazine?

I wasn't too controlling.

I needed to be involved. When you get me, you are not getting an image, you are not getting a figurehead. You're not getting a theme song. You're getting all of me. And I bring all my stuff with me. My history, my past. Mississippi, Nashville. I'm coming with the sistahs in the church, I'm bringing Sojourner Truth with me. And then there we all are, sitting up in your meeting, at your table, with the marketing directors.

Does the success of the magazine create new pressures for you?

What has been an advantage--even though some people might not consider it an advantage--is the fact that I had no magazine experience. Zip. Zilch. None. Zero. And so I came in with an open mind about what could and could not be done. And I still maintain an open mind. At first people said, "You can't put the table of contents there." After a while they just said, "OK, Oprah, where would you like it?"

What are some things you've had to streamline because of your hectic pace?

I don't read much negative mail anymore because it doesn't do me any good. It used to be that I had to read negative mail and track people down. The slightest thing would get me going, and I'd have to find Mary in Oregon and call her up and talk about what she wrote. That was during the days when I wanted everyone to like me. And now I don't read tabloids and most press anymore. I'll probably read this.

If you've reached the point where you won't let it influence you, why have all the barriers to people talking about you?

You cannot create an atmosphere where your employees know that they can be bought, that they can sell you out--where your staffers are open to being approached all the time for money for stories that can then be distorted. If people were just going to tell the truth and it was about freedom of speech, that's one thing. But when you add money into the picture, it becomes completely different. …

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