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Claudia Dreifus speaks on art of the political interview

February 9, 1999

On February 9, 1999, the National Archives and Records Administration featured a talk at the National Archives by Claudia Dreifus on the art of the political interview. Few journalists could be more qualified to speak on this subject than Dreifus, who has built her career by conducting intriguing interviews.

Born in New York City in 1944, she earned a degree in Dramatic Arts at New York University, and almost immediately went to work as a journalist. Following a ten-year stint as an interviewer for Newsday's Sunday magazine, Dreifus moved in the late 1970s to Playboy, where her interviewees included author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, columnist William Safire, and then-Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. A move to the New York Times allowed her to continue her work interviewing and writing about cultural and political luminaries.

During her many decades of political reporting, she wrote about conversations with such figures as Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, U.S. General Colin Powell, the Dalai Lama, Burmese democracy activist and political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, writers Isaac Bashevis Singer and Toni Morrison, and fellow journalist Dan Rather. Rather once said that Dreifus's interviews were "like playing tennis with Steffi Graf: do your best, and you'll learn a lot; anything less, and she'll pave the court with you."

A new era for Dreifus began in the late 1990s, when she joined the staff of the Times science department as an editor. In this position, Dreifus became well-known as the author of the popular "A Conversation With…" column. Her interviewees for the "Science" section have included Jane Goodall, the biologist who revolutionized animal research by applying anthropology to the study of chimpanzees, and Marie Philbin, an Irish scientist studying the regeneration of nerve cells. Her interviews have been collected and published as Scientific Conversations: Interviews on Science from the New York Times (2001).

Dreifus continues to write regularly for the New York Times. She is also a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, and writes for a variety of other publications, including Ms. Magazine, Town and Country, Playboy, and TV Guide. In addition, she is a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute at The New School University, and an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

Sources:www.archives.gov/press/press-releases/1999/nr99-35.html; http://www.cuny.tv/show/jewishwomeninamerica/PR1006421.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Claudia Dreifus speaks on art of the political interview." (Viewed on April 25, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/feb/09/1999/claudia-dreifus>.