To describe Evanston’s Scott Turow as a best-selling author would be a vast understatement.
He has been a fearless advocate for civil rights since he was a teen, a prosecuting or defense litigator for decades, and a multi-term leader of a national organization helping authors and independent book stores. Most recently, he was inducted into the New Trier High School Hall of Honor.
Between Amherst College and Harvard Law School, where he wrote “One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School,” his memoir of a grueling first year, Turow spent five years in Stanford’s creative writing program. He served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in high profile corruption cases before publishing “Presumed Innocent,” in 1987, which was the first of his nine blockbuster legal thrillers and other books.
Currently, Turow’s most important roles are those of proud father to Rachel, Gabe and Eve; doting grandpa to Rachel’s son, Jonah; and President of the Writer’s Guild, the largest society of book authors in America. He recently returned from a visit to our nation’s capital, where he found time to visit with Jonah while lobbying Congress on behalf of the Guild, fighting for authors in a battle over domain name rights with web giants Amazon and Google.
Congratulations on your New Trier High School Alumni Hall Of Honor induction. How has attending New Trier and growing up in this area influenced your life?
Like most teens, I had a hard time in my adolescent years … But I unquestionably got a superb education in liberal arts and liberal values. So did my three kids, who also went to New Trier. I never felt a step behind the boarding school kids when I went to Amherst either.
I was the youth head of the Evanston Urban League and sat on the junior board of the NAACP. We organized a day to study black history in 1964. [It’s hard to believe now] but black history was unknown to most African Americans, as well as whites then. We also marched in areas of Evanston where black people were not welcome to rent. I’m sure that I was very strident in my opinions, and my classmates probably found me a bore.
But weren’t you editor In chief of the newspaper? How much of a bore could you have been?
Yes, and I never was a real revolutionary. I wanted change, but I never thought that violence would be a good idea. I’ve always believed in the capacity of America to change.
Can you elaborate on that?
I like to remind people about our country’s astounding changes since then. In high school, I marched in Evanston to protest that black people couldn’t rent an apartment there. Now we have a black President!
There are still massive differences between rich and poor, a lot of it focused on race. But we’ve come such a long way.
There are millions and millions of people in this country whose lives are not only better, they can now achieve their full potential. This also is true for women and for gays who don’t have to hide who they are any more … We’re not done. But please, let’s do stop and smell the roses here.
What advice do you have for young people today?
Use your education to figure out what you believe in and try to live your life by those lights. In relative terms, I blundered around in my 20s. Five years at Stanford trying to be a writer, then law school, which was not an accepted move. But it was right for me.
You’ve lived on the North Shore most of your life, have you ever considered moving elsewhere?
I have a home in southern Wisconsin near Paddock Lake, which I go to all the time, including last weekend to cross country ski. I write up there too.
The older I get the less I enjoy the winter here—I don’t mind the cold so much, but the damn lack of sun. I’m partial to California, because I have a lot of friends there. Once LA got over being so obnoxiously proud of itself, it became a much more appealing place.
It’s a complicated time for writers, as evidenced by the Grim News open letter about a potential antitrust suit against publishers, which you recently posted. What are the big issues you’re working on as President of the Writer’s Guild and that you just discussed with Congress?
No one will ever hold a tag sale for me or other best-selling authors; we will survive. The Guild is fighting for newer or less successful authors and the independent bookstores that promote them. We’re also working to stop online book piracy and to get e-book royalties on par with those paid on physical books.
Are you working on anything else?
My next novel will be published in October. Chicagoans will recognize echos of the Valerie Percy murder [identical twin daughter of Senator Charles Percy murdered in their North Shore lakefront home]. It also draws on the Castor and Pollux myths. It’s about identical twins in Kindle County, one running for mayor at the same time the other is being released from serving 25 years in prison for murder.
What are you most proud of?
I’ve tried to be a really good father. I didn’t get along with my dad. He was a fine doctor, but… Being a good father was next best to reliving my childhood. My daughter Rachel has photos next to her bed of both her mother and father. That’s a good sign, right?”
And what about being a grandfather?
I love it!
Scott Turow, along with Bobbi Brown and eight other outstanding alumni will be inducted into the New Trier High School Hall of Honor Thursday, March 14.
Photo by Britt Anderson