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NPR's Steve Inskeep On Andrew Jackson And Staying Sane Amid Bad News

Steve Inskeep
Doby Photography/NPR
Steve Inskeep

Despite delivering the news on NPR's "Morning Edition" most weekdays, Steve Inskeep isn't always a serious man.

In conversation, the journalist and author is witty, playful and willing to engage.

He’s in Louisville on Monday, May 23, to talk about “Jacksonland,” his book that traces the story of President Andrew Jackson and Cherokee Chief John Ross, who fought against Jackson’s seizure of millions of acres of Native American land in the South.

Inskeep will be here as part of the Filson Historical Society’s Gertrude Polk Brown Lecture Series. I talked with him about his inspiration for writing the book and the time he spent in Kentucky, where he attended college at Morehead State.

We also talked about how to stay calm amid the insanity of the news.

Listen to the interview in the audio player above.

Inskeep, a native of Carmel, Indiana, on attending Morehead State University: 

"I wanted to get as far away from Indiana as i could image. And one state over was about as far as I could imagine. I'm serious about this. (laughing) And it's kind of amazing to think, because I've traveled several continent at this point. But really just going to school in New Jersey or something, that just did not enter my imagination.

"But someone had mentioned Morehead to me -- a music teacher did -- because I was a musician in high school and they had a good music program. I applied there. I didn't end up studying music at all, but I was accepted to the school. And I mean this respectfully: It turned out to be another world. I actually did go very far away. When you go from a very nice suburb of Indianapolis to the hills of Eastern Kentucky, on the edge of historic coal mining country, it's a different place. And people have had different life experiences. And you learn a lot really fast about the diversity and the complexity of the world."

On "laughing to keep from crying": 

"Reporting on bad news is certainly not as hard as living it firsthand. But it can be challenging. And I think the most important thing for us all is to be willing to laugh. Especially to laugh when things are bad. A cynical laugh that's OK, too. Langston Hughes has that phrase "laughing to keep from crying." I think about that a lot.

"I thought about that a lot during the financial crisis especially, when it just seemed like the whole world was falling apart. I was totally OK with telling a cynical kind of reporter-journalism kind of joke, or letting that come out on the air. And sometimes people didn't get it. 'Why are you laughing? This is terrible. You should be serious!' Yes, it is terrible. I should be serious. But that's actually why I should be laughing. Because we're all human. And when you laugh, it means you're not defeated."

Steve Inskeep will discuss "Jacksonland" as part of the Filson Historical Society’s Gertrude Polk Brown Lecture Series on Monday, May 23 at 6:30 p.m. at The Temple, Congregation Adath Israel Brith Sholom, 5101 U.S. Highway 42.

Stephen George is President and CEO of Louisville Public Media. Email Stephen at sgeorge@lpm.org.

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