How Terry Gross Gets People to Open Up On Air
'New York Times' profiles America's 'national interviewer'
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 25, 2015 10:14 AM CDT
Radio host Terry Gross accepts the 2007 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

(Newser) – As NPR's Fresh Air radio host Terry Gross celebrates her 40th anniversary at the helm of the show, former Harper’s Magazine editor and This American Life producer Susan Burton has a sit-down with her for the New York Times. And while Gross shares parts of her life story—her father ran the family's hat-material business, she tried LSD in college, she was fired as a teacher just eight weeks into the job—she remains characteristically vague about much of her personal life, preferring to take the back seat as interviewer instead of interviewee. By being somewhat anonymous, she says, she allows "radio listeners to do what they like to do, which is to create you. Whatever you need me to be, I’ll be that." It also helps that she's always been "inquisitive" and has a knack for asking just the right question—traits that have made her what Burton calls our "national interviewer."

Over the years Gross, who is 64, has conducted 13,000 interviews and is, according to podcaster Marc Maron, "the most effective and beautiful interviewer of people on the planet." Many have divulged secrets they've never told anyone when on the air with her. Maurice Sendak tearfully said in an interview soon before his death, "You are the only person I have ever dealt with in terms of being interviewed or talking who brings this out in me. There’s something very unique and special in you, which I so trust." And while some interviews have awkward moments, like when Gross pushed Hillary Clinton to explain her changed stance on gay marriage in 2014, Gross believes in keeping them: "A real moment of friction, a real moment of tension, is still a real moment." Read the full profile. (This is what one writer says makes Terry Gross so great.)