James Mann Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
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James, welcome to Berkeley.
Good to be with you, Harry.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and grew up in Albany, New York.
Looking back, how do you think your parents shaped your thinking about the world?
I grew up in a family of doctors. My father was a doctor, my grandfather was a doctor. I was supposed to [become a doctor] and sort of started to volunteer to become a doctor as well.
My father shaped my values in many ways. He died when I was about 16.
I got midway through college. I had taken the bare minimum pre-med courses. I actually even applied to and got into medical school, and I finally got to that point where I said, "I like to write. I really don't want to do this." I decided to try newspaper reporting, and I got a job as a newspaper reporter. My medical school the next year asked, "Are you coming?" (I had taken a leave of absence, I hadn't even started.) At some point they stopped asking if I was coming and I kept on as a newspaper reporter for many years.
And you haven't regretted it since?
No. This is what I wanted to do.
Where did you do your undergraduate work?
I was an undergraduate at Harvard.
This first leave of absence was in not one of America's finest newspapers, a small newspaper in New Haven, Connecticut. I worked there for about nine months. I remember quitting in June, because I was twenty-two years old, and you know, school was out. Later, at the end of that summer, I started as I think the youngest cub reporter in the newsroom at the Washington Post, about 1969.
How did you make this match with writing? Did you just discover it through courses, through reading? What led you to that road?
For any writer there are parts of that that are both an instinct and a desire that you have. As a kid, I liked to write -- I liked to write letters, I edited my high school newspaper, and so on. It's just something you know. You like telling stories and you like putting ideas down on paper, and you just keep doing it.
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