We caught up with Griswold on Feb. 16 before she helped kick off the Eckerd College Presidential Series with "The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam." She is an independent investigative reporter and published poet who received the Anthony J. Lukas prize for her book The Tenth Parallel, which examines Christianity and Islam in Africa and Asia. To research the work, Griswold, the daughter of an Episcopalian minister, traveled with Franklin Graham, the evangelical leader and son of Billy Graham, to meet with Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan.
What's on your nightstand?
Two obscure books that I actually got from the Shah M. Book Co. in Kabul, the bookstore written about in Bookseller of Kabul. One is on a series of Pathan murders, and the other I picked up was a book about Pashto marriage. I got the second one for a story on Pashto women's poetry I'm working on.
When you have an idea that you want to write about, do you find yourself making a conscious decision whether to write poetry or journalism?
I turn to poetry, I think, when I am involved in something as a reporter that I can't explain easily. At that difficult moment, I write poetry.
I imagine that you spent a lot of time as a child listening to your father, a minister who was very eloquent. Do you think this influenced your wanting to be a writer?
Without a question. I am not comparing myself to Emily Dickinson, but we see how Emily Dickinson's exposure to the church influenced her cadence in her writing. It's about the whole idea of how the most significant way to use words is to reach God. Poetry is creating space where the everyday and sacred meet, and that's certainly something I borrow from centuries of tradition.
How did watching the dialogue between Omar al-Bashir and Franklin Graham impact you?
I didn't walk away from that conversation feeling differently. I walked away with a different and deeper understanding of how religion is pulled into the equation. There was Franklin Graham working as a de facto representative for the Bush administration, and nobody in the U.S. chose him to be a government representative, but that's exactly what he was doing.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer