10 (or so) questions with...Michele Norris
By Steve Lange
author, host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and speaker at the upcoming Power of the Purse event (June 19)
Rochester Magazine: Power of the Purse is presented by United Way of Olmsted County’s Women’s Leadership Council, and raises money to provide a book a month to over 6,000 kids. First book that had an impact on you?
Michele Norris: Curious George. Isn’t that funny? I’m a journalist and I ask questions, so it taught me to be a journalist, I guess. It was big and had great pictures and I loved the man in the yellow hat, and Curious George was always getting into trouble.
RM: Did you ever see the one where he gets into ether?
MN: Did he get high or something?
RM: Yes, he floats off into this weird dream and then passes out. It’s a classic.
MN: No, I don’t remember that.
RM: The event is for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. What’s the best Dolly Parton song?
MN: The one that jumps in my head immediately is “9 to 5,” but the one that I think is just fabulous is “Jolene.”
RM: No. It’s “Coat of Many Colors.”
MN: Is the best one? No, “Jolene” is. Anyone who’s ever had their heart stepped on at some point has heard that song and said, “Mmmmm, hmmmm, I know what she’s talking about.”
RM: You’re married to Broderick Johnson, who was recently appointed to the Barack Obama 2012 reelection campaign.
MN: I am.
RM: How has that been going?
MN: You’d have to ask him. He keeps a pretty thick firewall at home.
RM: What about from your point of view?
MN: It’s pretty much non-stop work. He’s in Chicago a lot. But, good man that he is, he manages to get home just about every weekend. Still coaches basketball. Still holds up the tent poles.
RM: You have an older stepson and two younger kids ...
MN: They are ages 11 and 12, and my daughter may be 13 by the time you read this.
RM: Are you also familiar with Broderick Johnson, the movie producer?
MN: I am familiar with Broderick Johnson, the movie producer. I have actually met his step-mother, and we had a good laugh about it. My husband, Broderick, keeps getting confused with that Broderick, often in print by reporters who should know better.
RM: What’s your favorite movie, from your non-husband, Broderick Johnson?
MN: He did The Blind Side, which was pretty good. He did The Book of Eli, which was good but disturbing.
RM: His list of movies is pretty impressive.
MN: It’s very impressive. I tell Broderick we should figure out a way to hang out with that Broderick Johnson.
RM: I’m going to give you three names. Tell me how you’re linked. [Actor] James Arness, [musician] Jimmy Jam, [TV personality] Kathryn Finney.
MN: Did we all go to Washburn?
RM: Yes. All alumni of Washburn High School in Minneapolis.
RM: OK. Here’s another group, even more specific. The problem is I don’t have first names, just initials. C. Henry, H. Adelsman, A. Nellas, G. Lieb. you, L. Komoto.
MN: We were all cheerleaders.
RM: I found a photo of you in high school ...
MN: How big was my afro?
RM: It was pretty big.
MN: I was a hockey cheerleader, too. We would run out on the ice before the Zamboni. It was hard to do gymnastics, but we’d do our routines.
RM: That seems sort of dangerous.
RM: You have started the Race Card Project, where you collect thoughts on race in six words. Are there any that have really stood out for you?
MN: There are a few. There’s one that I really love, and it came in via Twitter on a day when people were talking about what it means to be multicultural, biracial. How you choose what you are, or if you get to choose what you are. ... You have a child you enroll in school and you can choose only one box, and you have the heartbreak of making that decision. ... A fella who lives in Hawaii sent in six words, and they stopped me in my tracks. His six words were: “My son’s not half, he’s double.”
RM: That’s excellent.
MN: There’s so much in those six words.
RM: Do you have your standard six words?
MN: Mine change all the time. It used to be “Fooled them all, not done yet.” Right now it’s somewhere around these six words: “Still more work to be done.”
RM: What’s the worst question you’ve ever asked in an interview?
MN: I can’t think of the question, but I remember the answer. It was one of the first interviews I did. It was with Kathy Bates for the film About Schmidt and she had a really bodacious nude scene where she just put it all out there. I was trying to figure out how to ask the question, and didn’t just come in the front door, which is what you need to do in a moment like that. Just be honest. Her answer was “What is it that you really want to know?” It was really awful.
RM: What’s in your purse right now? Don’t lie or we’ll know.
MN: Well, because I’ve got back issues, I’ve gone to a smaller purse, so less than there used to be. Two phones, two sets of keys, about eight lipsticks—sorry, I just make no apologies for that—a couple of mechanical pencils because I like to do Sudoku, a passport because I just returned from Italy. Since I’m carrying a smaller bag, you’re not going to find a baseball cleat or anything like that, which has made its way into my purse in the past.
RM: Cheesy psych test.
MN: Oh no.
RM: Name your favorite animal and give me three words to describe it.
MN: I like pigs. Cute, round, flying.
RM: Same thing with your favorite color.
MN: Green. Life, lush, loot.
RM: You’re in a white room. All alone. No windows or doors. How do you feel?
MN: I don’t have to cut anyone else’s food. It’s nap time. And I wish there were music.
RM: OK. For the animal, that’s supposed to represent how you feel about yourself. You said cute, round, and flying.
MN: Yes! Often flying from place to place.
RM: The color is how you hope others perceive you. You said life, lush, and loot.
MN: That’s pretty good.
RM: The white room is supposed to represent your feelings on death.
MN: That’s really good. I do hope there’s music.