Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's college education is PERFUNCTORY enough; she studied sociology at Smith College as an undergraduate and received her graduate degree in philosophy and modern literature at Oxford University.
LeBlanc published her first piece in the New England Monthly while attending Smith. Her article about the unusual number of suicides by teens in the area and her revelation of substance abuse caused quite a stir.
After graduating, LeBlanc became the fiction editor at Seventeen magazine. Her position as the fiction editor for Seventeen opened her availability and she continued to write other pieces on the side, most of them having nothing to do with Seventeen material. One of these pieces was about the heroin dealer Boy George. Her article took her into his life and she became familiar with his girlfriends. After publishing the initial piece she had been working on about George, she began a book about girlfriends of warlords and the life these girls lived in the 'hood. She quite her job at Seventeen to devote more time to the story and its research. Twelve years, five editors, two agents and two publishers later, Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx brought LeBlanc recognition and reverence. The New York Times Book Review added the book to their 'ten best books of the year' and the book also was a contender for the National Book Critics Circle Award while winning the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (230).
LeBlanc cites several journalists that have had an influence on her writing: Jacob Riis, Susan Sheehan, Jonathan Kozol, William Finnegan and Alex Kotlowitz. Tracey Kidder should also be listed here because she took classes by him at Smith College.
One method that LeBlanc used for interviewing really stood out. When overtired and still needing to gather material, LeBlanc would give a tape recorder to her subject and tell them to fill the tape however they wished. As an undergrad, I learned that reporters (during personal interviews, not in press conferences or similar places) often ask questions and then remain silent for a considerable time after the answer has been given to see what else can be drawn from the interviewee. The interviewee will feel a need to fill the empty air and often will give more in depth information and sometimes information that they had not been planning to share. LeBlanc's tape recorder method also removes the stress of face-to-face interviewing; the interviewee may not feel like they are standing trial because someone is sitting with them waiting for a response.
LeBlanc stated that most of her stories are not sought out but rather happen spontaneously. A particular idea or subject from the past brings more curiosity, and LeBlanc's realization of a good story is "when I'm absorbed by it almost to the point of obsession" (233). Ironically, this obsession turns to "dread" when she knows she must write (235). The amount of time and commitment to the feature are daunting.
Instead of worrying about characters that already have a presence in the media, LeBlanc prefers to report on people that seem the least interesting. She aims to interview her subjects in places that they are most comfortable. Several examples she gives show the time and level of correspondence that LeBlanc takes with her characters. She mentions interviewing Coco (Random Family) while driving her to see her boyfriend in jail. They would have hours in the car together and be able to talk; Coco felt comfortable enough to share in that environment. LeBlanc also mentioned interviewing in the kitchen in one of the mother's homes; that was where the mom felt least inhibited.
Rather than getting expert opinions and doing extraneous amounts of research in preparation for a project, LeBlanc prefers to go into the project with her own opinions. She worries that if she researches too much she will be opinionated and not listen as well or with such an unbiased ear to what her interviewees are saying.
The interviewer asked LeBlanc if she "believes that the kind of journalism you do can lead to truth." Her answer to this seems to sum up every effort she puts into her writing. She responded, "I don't know about truth, but I believe journalism can lead to a moment of real human connection between the reader and a world that they would not otherwise know. And with luck it would be a lasting connection. I always tell the people i write about that I'm writing about their world, but that it will be my story. So the truth may be my truth, not necessarily the truth they believe" (247). LeBlanc searches through what most observers would see as meaningless and brings out the commonalities in humanity to find an engaging story.