On the Air: Preparing for a Radio Interview

By Elizabeth Austen

Categories: Alum Experiences, General, Writing Tips,

You summoned the courage, devoted the time, wrote the book. You found a publisher. Now it’s time to get the book into the world.

For the past decade or so, I’ve worked part-time at KUOW, one of Seattle’s NPR affiliates. I interview poets and curate a regular poetry feature. I’ve been on the other side of the microphone, too, talking about my own work, and have been grateful I knew what to expect and how to prepare. Even so, being interviewed is a funny balancing act—ideally, it comes across as a relaxed, engaging conversation, but unlike a regular social situation, the interview requires preparation.

I recommend you start by assuming that the interviewer won’t have had time—despite the best intentions!—to read your book. So, spend some time thinking about what you want a listener to know about it. Practice briefly describing your book. Why did you write it, and why did you write it this way? What compelled you to stick with it—why is this subject/story important to you? Is there an interesting anecdote about how it got published, or where the title came from? Also think about what you want to say about how you got started writing and why you continue to do it. If you have a good story related to any of these questions, and you can tell it briefly, do so—stories are what catch a listener’s ear.

Choose a couple of brief excerpts or a few short poems that you might read aloud. What would provide a good introduction to the book? Practice reading aloud, and practice giving a concise introduction that sets the scene or provides a frame of reference for the listener.

If you can, go online and listen to an example or two of your interviewer’s program, so that you’ll have a sense of what to expect in terms of tone and approach. Does this interviewer tend to ask more about craft and process, or about the backstory of the book or individual poems?

You might also write down some questions, and have a friend interview you for practice—you could do this in person or over the phone.

When it comes time for the actual interview, remember that nervousness is normal. Think of it as fuel. I have a mantra that I tell myself before I perform, and it’s equally true when I’m interviewing or being interviewed: “The performance requires me, but it’s not about me.” In other words, I need to show up and be present, but the focus is on the work, not on me or my ego (even if I’m talking about my process or any autobiographical connection to the material). The point—whether in a performance or an interview—is to help the listener connect to the work. When I keep my focus on that, my anxiety diminishes.

And finally—trust the preparation you’ve done, and let go of it in the moment. Enjoy this chance to talk about your work. Someone listening needs what you have to offer.

EDITOR NOTE: Two Hedgebrook Alumnae, Lenelle Moïse and Thao Nguyen, were recently interviewed by KUOW about how art can infuse social change. Check it out!



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