If you were listening to NPR Monday morning right after bin Laden was killed, you may have heard a reprise of their 2006 interview with Wright, who is the author of The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.
Lawrence Wright’s history of al-Qaeda, The Looming Tower (Knopf, 2006) was published to immediate and widespread acclaim, spending eight weeks on The New York Times best seller list and being translated into twenty-five languages. It was nominated for the National Book Award and won the Lionel Gelber Award for nonfiction, the Los Angeles Times Award for History, the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. The NYU School of Journalism recently honored the book as one of the ten best works of journalism in the previous decade.
In 2006, he premiered his one-man play, “My Trip to al-Qaeda,” at The New Yorker Festival, and then enjoyed a sold-out six-week run at the Culture Project in Soho. It has been made into a documentary film, directed by Academy Award-winner Alex Gibney, and will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April.
Wright is a graduate of Tulane and also the American University in Cairo, where he taught English and received an M.A. in Applied Linguistics in 1969. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1971, Wright began his writing career at the Race Relations Reporter in Nashville, Tennessee. Two years later, he went to work for Southern Voices, a publication of the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta, Georgia, and began to freelance for various national magazines. In 1980, Wright returned to Texas to work for Texas Monthly. He also became a contributing editor to Rolling Stone. In December, 1992, he joined the staff of The New Yorker, where he published a number of notable articles, which have won him the National Magazine Award for Reporting as well as the John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism, and Overseas Press Club’s Ed Cunningham Award for best magazine reporting.
Wright is the co-writer (with Ed Zwick and Menno Meyjes) of The Siege, starring Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis and Annette Bening, which appeared in November 1998. He also wrote the script of the Showtime movie, Noriega: God’s Favorite, directed by Roger Spottiswoode and starring Bob Hoskins, which aired in April 2000. He is currently working on a script for Ridley Scott. Wright has published six previous books. City Children, Country Summer (Scribner’s, 1979), In the New World: Growing Up with America, 1960-1984 (Knopf, 1988), Saints & Sinners (Knopf, 1993), Remembering Satan (Knopf, 1994), Twins: Genes, Environment, and the Mystery of Identity (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1997; Wiley & Sons, 1998), and God’s Favorite (Simon & Schuster, 2000).
Wright is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He also serves as the keyboard player in the Austin-based blues band, Who Do.
Q. Are you a native Texan or did you get here as soon as you could?
A. I was born in Oklahoma City – as a matter of fact, in the same hospital as Steve Harrigan, who later became my best friend and neighbor. We also lived in Abilene at the same time, although we didn’t know each other. My family moved to Texas when I was ten, first to Abilene, then to Dallas.
Q. How did you end up writing nonfiction?
A. After doing some freelance work for small magazines, I got a job at the Race Relations Reporter in Nashville, covering the tail end of the civil rights movement, in 1971. I never intended to be a journalist, but that was one form of writing that actually paid. Since then, I’ve expanded the franchise to encompass screenplays, novels, and plays, but journalism is still the main line for me.
Q. What book marketing activities made you a bestselling author?
A. I don’t know how much marketing had to do with it. When The Looming Tower came out in 2006, I declared that I was tired of doing book tours, sitting in shopping malls watching the crowds go by. Instead, I decided to perform a one-man play, “My Trip to al-Qaeda,” about my experiences writing the book. That way, the audience came to me.
Q. Tell us about your latest release. Is it set in Texas?
A. My last book, The Looming Tower, is about the rise of al-Qaeda. I’m now working on a book about Scientology. Neither has much to do with Texas.
Q. Where can we pay you a virtual visit?