Episode 73—Patsy Sims on Book Research as Mini-education, Not Giving Up, and “The Stories We Tell”

Patsy Sims
Patsy Sims reporting at a KKK rally for her 1978 book “The Klan.”

By Brendan O’Meara

“The novel I always wanted to write didn’t have to be fiction.”

“What they gave women was pitiful.”

“Sure, you have everything on the tape recorder, but that’s the beauty of it and it’s up to me to be selective.”

“Transcribing is another point of getting this in your head.”

“I guess the lesson there is perseverance. Not giving up.”

Hey, CNFers, it’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction. I try and tease out the origins and tactics from leaders in narrative journalism (like Susan Orlean), personal essay (like Elizabeth Rush), memoir (like Andre Dubus III), radio (like Joe Donahue), and documentary film (like Penny Lane), so you can apply their tools of mastery to your own work.

Pasty Sims is the author of The KlanCan I get an Amen!: Inside the Tents and Tabernacles of American Rivivalists, and, most recently, she’s the editor of The Stories We Tell: True Tales by America’s Greatest Women Journalists (The Sager Group, 2017). 

Patsy has been such a champion of creative nonfiction that it’s easy to forget that she was one of the pioneers in the 60s and 70s. She was the Dumbledorian headmaster of Goucher College’s Creative Nonfiction MFA program and few people—myself included—ever asked her about her origins and her writing. But that’s sort of the myopic nature of MFA students. Again, myself included. This is my way of atoning.

That’s neither here nor there.

In this episode we talk about:

  • Book projects as mini-educations.
  • Paying attention to people who aren’t paid attention to
  • Building relationships
  • Persistence
  • Her fascinating approach to digesting notes and a lot, lot more

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