The Next Big Story: My Journey Through the Land of Possibilities
Soledad O’Brien with Rose Marie Arce
Elise’s “Lees” Lights – 8/10
We all know that person. The one who feels destruction and terror; yet, still manages to come out on top. The one who fights her way to the finish line, but finishes in the top 10. The one who endures so much struggle, but carries the weight of it like a feather. Broadcast journalist María de la Soledad Teresa O'Brien, more commonly known as Soledad O’Brien, isn’t the person described – but she’s spent her career witnessing that person over and over again as she continues to tell stories of strength, endurance and kindness. We relive these moments with O’Brien in her 2010 memoir, The Next Big Story: My Journey Through the Land of Possibilities.
Soledad O’Brien is a decorated journalist. She’s co-anchored NBC’s The Today Show, Weekend Edition, anchored multiple programs on CNN and HBO before turning her focus to her own media company, Starfish Media Group. She’s earned the most prestigious journalism awards, such as the Peabody and the Alfred I. DuPont – Columbia University Award. And at the time of the memoir’s publication, she was only 44 years old.
The memoir reveals few personal details. We learn of her marriage, her parent’s relationship to each other, her relationship with her siblings and the raising of her four children. On a personal level, O’Brien spends the most time exploring her biracial background and this becomes a critical aspect of her career. One thing that remains unclear: what role her co-author, colleague and producer Rose Marie Arce, had in the writing of the memoir.
The book is realistic. O’Brien takes readers through her most tumultuous reporting moments – Hurricane Katina, the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the 2010 Haiti earthquake -- intertwining the lessons learned from her childhood and early adult years. Although she’s seen devastating moments, O’Brien does not have a hunger for them to gain more status in her career. The memoir makes it clear: the author’s choice is to serve others through her profession.
Beginning in motion, the memoir describes O’Brien’s career as hurrying from one scene of destruction to the next. The theme of her memoir is solidified through a quote, “Bad things happen until good people get in the way.” She recalls first learning this lesson growing up in Smithtown, Long Island.
Now this is where my own skepticism appears. I think, “What could a suburban upbringing have to do with the chaos of earthquakes striking Haiti and Cuba?”
To put it in perspective, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti struck at a magnitude of 7 and death toll estimates are as high as 316,000. To align Haiti’s natural disaster with a relatively calm upbringing seems crude. Yet, O’Brien keeps this notion consistent throughout the memoir. She does not escape her world view, shaped by both her upbringing as an interracial child (O’Brien identifies as white, Cuban and Black) in a white neighborhood and her experience as one of America’s leading journalists. However, she doesn’t whine about her past – her tone is always humble even as she searches for what it means to belong to different minority groups in America.
In a somewhat chronological form, the memoir takes readers through her personal life, which is overshadowed by her professional one. I say “somewhat” because at any given point, the memoir is often back tracks to her upbringing and feelings of isolation. She’s not black enough for her black peers, too dark for white ones, and she struggles to connect with her Cuban roots despite the group’s immediate acceptance of her. She’s not alone in her struggle – she’s the fifth out of six siblings, all who manage to earn degrees at Harvard University.
Still, O’Brien’s childhood self remains confused and the author takes us on a journey of unpacking this confusion. Inwardly, O’Brien works through these struggles. Outwardly, the author seeks to find the good in people despite rough circumstances. Over and over again, O’Brien protects the notion that people are inherently good. Not everyone will buy it. O’Brien’s life will come across as sheltered to some readers, and the “glass-half-full” mentality may seem insincere to those who experience harsher realities.
Those who give the memoir a chance, will connect with part of O’Brien’s mindset. While she is no stranger to the public eye there are few ways we can experience a person’s psyche. This is a book for anyone who feels they want to reach beyond their own fortunate circumstances to help others. It’s also a memoir allowing readers to reflect on how their own upbringing has shaped their lives. If readers can see past O’Brien’s suburban start they will discover this renowned journalist brings a sincere attitude to the profession by placing a much needed spotlight on areas that should demand our concern.