January 20, 2022

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Who in Your Community Might Be Interesting to Interview?

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Consider people of all ages, those you know well and those you’d like to know. Think about people who intrigue you. Maybe they have fascinating jobs or interesting life stories or cool talents or hobbies. Maybe they play key roles in your community. Maybe they have lived through difficult experiences, or have overcome barriers. Maybe they have fascinating social media presences, like the woman in the photo above. Or, maybe you don’t know much about them at all — you’re just curious to find out.

We are asking you these questions to get you ready for our January Profile Contest, and our hope is that you’ll use this as a spot to brainstorm publicly, so that everyone can be inspired by your ideas.

To help, you could read this Times Insider piece, “In One Person, the Story of a Place,” which describes the Saturday Profile column. Since 2002, the column has “sought the universal in characters around the world.”

Here is how the piece begins:

A Holocaust survivor who plays music for his neighborhood; a farmhouse poet in China turned international literary celebrity; a guy who’s walking the earth with his donkey, Judas.

Local figures from around the world fill the Saturday Profile feature, which weaves colorful characters into the larger scope of The New York Times’s international coverage. The profiles capture people from all walks of life in the countries Times journalists report from.

“They don’t have to be famous people,” said Kyle Crichton, the editor of the column. “They just have to be interesting.”

Mr. Crichton, a deputy international editor in The Times’s London office, took over the column soon after it began in 2002, and has since shaped it into the weekly staple that it is today.

“The animating idea of it was to highlight people that you might never really see in the big news cycles,” Mr. Crichton said. “It brings you into a corner of the world that you really didn’t know existed and it lights it up.”

More than 700 people have been cataloged in the Saturday Profile’s lineup, and writers and editors posted all over the world have contributed.

The Times’s Brussels correspondent, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, typically covers the European Union. But recently she wrote a Saturday Profile about her neighbor, Simon Gronowski, who survived the Holocaust by hiding in attics for 17 months. In April, when Brussels shuttered itself against the first wave of the coronavirus, Mr. Gronowski was moved by memories to play piano out of his window.

“My backyard and his backyard face each other, so I’d never met him, I’d never seen him around in the neighborhood,” Ms. Stevis-Gridneff said. “And then of course we were locked in so we didn’t really see anyone around anyway.”

And though profiles aren’t her usual form, as the pieces fell into place she was pleasantly surprised.

“Genres that require more voice are often a bit daunting for people like me who are used to doing different types of writing,” Ms. Stevis-Gridneff said. “But I quite like this freedom — this kind of voice, the humanity. It also felt really different from the very grim and incredibly densely reported work I’d been doing on Covid.”

Once her interview with Mr. Gronowski was translated from French to English, it took only two days to write the draft.

“It was one of the easiest pieces I’ve written in my life,” Ms. Stevis-Gridneff said. “It just came very naturally — the arc of his story was clear, his personality was so vivid.”

The reception in her multinational neighborhood, she said, was also surprisingly delightful.

“I got emails from neighbors I didn’t know, who had our story sent to them from friends in the U.S. or the U.K.,” Ms. Stevis-Gridneff said. “I heard from a Belgian woman, a Dutch woman and a Danish man who live on my block.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Whom in your community would you like to interview? Our questions at the top of this post may have brought one person to mind right away, or you may have a list of many people. Tell us about them.

  • If you need even more questions to help you, we have also made a special PDF full of additional prompts.

  • Next, choose one person on your list. Why do you want to interview that person? What would you like to find out? What questions would you ask to do that?

  • Scroll through the Saturday Profile column. Which people look especially intriguing? Do any of them spark additional ideas for someone local you could interview?

  • Our Profile Contest and the Saturday Profile have the same goal: to introduce interesting people who are not famous, but give “glimpses into distinct communities around the world.” As the editor who has been running the column for nearly 20 years explains, “It brings you into a corner of the world that you really didn’t know existed and it lights it up.” What little community or “corner of the world” could your profile “light up”? What do you hope readers will understand about this person and where the person lives?

Want more writing prompts? You can find all of our questions in our Student Opinion column. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate them into your classroom.

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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