Journalist Jeffrey Zaslow wrote the story that focused international attention on Randy Pausch, a terminally ill Carnegie Mellon professor whose unforgettable "last lecture" became an Internet sensation. Zaslow and Pausch expanded the talk into a bestselling book, published in 2008, scant months before Pausch's death. Zaslow is also the author of several nonfiction narratives, including 2009's The Girls from Ames.
Jeffrey Zaslow is one of a handful of journalists who have carved successful careers out of the human side of reportage. In 1987, while working for the Wall Street Journal, he learned of a competition sponsored by the Chicago Sun-Times to replace retired advice columnist Ann Landers. Seeking an angle for a feature story, he entered the contest and ended up winning the job over a field of more than 12,000 applicants. He worked for the Sun Times from 1987 until 2001, dispensing sage, common-sense advice and using his journalistic influence to benefit several charities and community causes.
Zaslow has returned to writing for Wall Street Journal, but his features, unlike those of his colleagues, are not centered on the world of finance. In an award-winning column called "Moving On," he chronicles the often emotionally charged human interest stories behind various life transitions -- from marriage to divorce and from career change to retirement. It was in pursuit of just such a story that he found his greatest fame.
In 2007, Zaslow learned about an unusual event to be held at his alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University. A computer science professor named Randy Pausch was scheduled to take part in a popular series of campus talks that invites teachers to present hypothetical "last lectures" to their students. But, what made this talk different was the total absence of hypothesis: Recently diagnosed with end-stage pancreatic cancer. Pausch was, indeed, addressing the student body for the last time. Zaslow attended the jam-packed lecture and wrote about it in his column, helping to fuel worldwide interest and an Internet phenomenon. Pausch and Zaslow collaborated on The Last Lecture, a book-length narrative that served not just as a compendium of life lessons, but as a moving testimony to Pausch's optimism and courage. The book was published in April of 2008 and became an international bestseller. Pausch died three months later.
After Pausch's death, Zaslow returned to a project he had spent many months pursuing: the biography of an extraordinary, enduring friendship among 11 women who had grown up together in the American Midwest. Revelatory, inspiring, and shot through with the optimism and emotional resonance that distinguishes all of Zaslow's writing, The Girls from Ames was published in April of 2009.
Good To Know
Some fun outtakes from our interview with Jeffrey Zaslow: "I sold hot dogs for 4 years in college in the stands at Philadelphia Phillies games."
"When I was an advice columnist in Chicago, I hosted a singles party for charity every fall. We'd have 7,000 attendees a year, and 78 marriages resulted."
"I had never been to Ames, Iowa, before I began reporting The Girls From Ames."