By Amrita Ramanan, Literary Manager
AR: When were you first introduced to Molly Ivins?
M & A: Molly was 7 years older than we were, and was already making a name for herself when we first started reading her in college. We certainly continued to read her journalism as we both became reporters – her fearlessness, research skills, humor and writing ability were inspiring. Margaret had met Molly briefly at journalism conferences, and was to appear on a panel with her in April of 2007. Molly didn’t make it. She died that January.
AR: Both of you have had incredible careers in journalism as reporters for The Des Moines Register and The Washington Post (Margaret) and The San Jose Mercury News (Allison), among others. Have your experiences in journalism mirrored Molly’s in any way?
M & A: There were parallels for any female reporter breaking into the old boy’s club of newsrooms in the 1970s. We both covered various beats that she did –police, city councils, politics, features – and worked for a variety of news organizations, as she did. Neither of us had the gumption to be as outrageous as she was. We did not bring our dog or go barefoot in the newsroom, or drink our sources under the table.
AR: Red Hot Patriot marks your first foray into playwriting. What was your inspiration for bringing Molly’s voice to life from the newspaper page to the stage? And what was your experience in developing the play collaboratively?
M & A: Even before Molly died, commentators were calling her “our Mark Twain.” On the
day she died, Margaret called Allison and said that we needed to write a one-woman play about Molly to keep her voice alive, that her words were too smart and funny to be forgotten. Molly was such a prolific writer that we thought we could collect a body of anecdotes that could be varied each night, as Holbrook does in “Mark Twain Tonight.” After discussing this with people we respect in theatre, we realized that our play needed to be a dramatization of her unusual life.
As far as collaboration, that was the easy part. We had collaborated before on three books for HarperCollins, beginning in the days of sending carbon paper copies to each other through the postal service. So being able to e-mail pages back and forth made it much easier. We also are able to speak in a shorthand way to each other – no introductory pleasantries needed – so we can get a lot accomplished in a 15-second phone call.
AR: With the Red Hot Patriot performance run in conjunction with the 2012 presidential elections, I’m struck by Molly’s ability to fuse political critique with journalism in her commentary about the Bush family, etc. What do you feel is the relationship between journalism and politics today? How has Molly pioneered the contemporary dialogue between to the two?
M & A: Molly did fuse political critique with journalism, but it is important to remember that she did so as a columnist, not as a straight news reporter covering politics. She was expected to have strong opinions and express them. What was different about Molly from many commentators today was that she was scrupulous about backing up her opinions with specific examples, often based on her original reporting. She wasn’t yelling or cracking jokes for their own sake, but as a means to get readers to pay attention to the issues she was writing about. There are plenty of columnists today who do the same – Paul Krugman, Matt Taibi – but unfortunately plenty of commentators who simply repeat conventional wisdom at high decibels.
AR: What about Molly Ivins’ legacy do you hope resonates most prominently today?
M & A: We hope people will recognize what a patriot she truly was, and how she saw informed dissent as a key part of our democracy. We hope people also will realize how hard she worked, how much she cared about issues of inequality, poverty, sexism and racism – and how much fun she had fighting the good fight.