For Father's Day, we caught up with journalist Suskind, who won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing while at the Wall Street Journal. His most recent book is Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism. It is a memoir that details 20 years in Suskind's life as he, his wife Cornelia and eldest son Walt find themselves departing from "the land of normal'' to navigate life with Owen, their second son, who is autistic. The family came to recognize Owen's ability to make connections with the world around him by relating it to Disney's animated movies. The discovery came on Walt's ninth birthday, like a thunderbolt through the kitchen, according to Suskind, 53. Walt had become weepy at the end of the party, not wanting it to end. Owen looked up at his parents and said, "Walter doesn't want to grow up ... like Mowgli or Peter Pan.''
Suskind, who is currently the senior fellow at Harvard University's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, is also an alumnus of the Tampa Bay Times. From 1985 to 1987, he was on the metro staff of what was then the St. Petersburg Times.
What's on your nightstand?
I've got a couple books from a favorite writer, Howard Norman. Last year he wrote I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place. It's helpful on writing memoir, and now I'm reading Next Life Might Be Kinder. The book is about someone who died but comes back. It's especially moving for me because I have felt many times that I am in conversation with my father who died years ago. ... (Norman's) specialty is managing that dance between all the layers of reality. ... I also have A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Once Life, Animated came out, so many people would come up to me and tell me to read it. It has a character with autism.
What did you think of it?
There were parts difficult for me to read, but it was so moving.
How did Owen change your perception of Father's Day?
I already was a father, so it didn't change really, but when I think of Owen, he always got excited on Father's Day. He always made me cards. I remember one year, a stressful year for me at work because I was being investigated, actually, by the Bush administration. I was accused of taking classified documents. Owen drew me as Long John Silver from Treasure Planet. I asked him why, and he said, "Because you are like a pirate now, but you have a heart of gold."
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163.