Portraits: 9/11/01: The Collected

Portraits: 9/11/01: The Collected "Portraits of Grief" from The New York Times

by The New York Times, Gloria Emerson

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Poignant and personal remembrances, celebrating the lives of the World Trade Center victims.

Few aspects of The New York Times's coverage of September 11 and of all that has followed have attracted as much comment as "Portraits of Grief." A page or two buried deep in the B section every day for 15 weeks, the series profiled the lives lost in the

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Poignant and personal remembrances, celebrating the lives of the World Trade Center victims.

Few aspects of The New York Times's coverage of September 11 and of all that has followed have attracted as much comment as "Portraits of Grief." A page or two buried deep in the B section every day for 15 weeks, the series profiled the lives lost in the attacks on the World Trade Center and has become a story in itself, becoming required reading for many, the world over.

Beginning on Sept. 14, a half-dozen Times reporters began working from a stack of 100 missing person fliers collected from points around the World Trade Center site. They crafted profiles—stories containing short but signature details of the lives they strove to present. These portraits transcend race, class, and gender lines and tell of the old and the young, praising their individuality while at the same time cutting through their differences to capture the poignancy of their shared similarity: life cut short in an American tragedy. The stories have become a source of connection and consolation, a focus for the sorrow of readers both reeling from disbelief and searching for support. To paraphrase "Portraits" reporter Charlie LeDuff, there's more than one Ground Zero—there are thousands of Ground Zeros. Portraits: 9/11/01, a collection of the over 1,800 profiles published in the Times, helps us visit them all.

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Editorial Reviews

Wall Street Journal
In a story producing great journalism, none has been more exceptional than the New York Times's Portraits of Grief. They are profoundly moving.
Vanity Fair
Each write-up isn't just a write-up but a votive offering to the spirit of the deceased.
Library Journal
In the days and weeks following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the nation and New York in particular struggled to find normalcy. Yet the city's desire to confront the terror and, in turn, work through its grief was palpable. The New York Times's series "Portraits of Grief" was one response to this need. Described by Times executive editor Howell Raines as "snapshots of lives interrupted as they were being actively lived," the profiles give a face to a number, a story to a name. By now everyone in the nation has read at least one of these portraits, heard the legacy of a loved one retold by a friend, or remembered the name of just one person who perished. As the series initially served to highlight the missing, it eventually lent itself to healing a nation by giving short, unglorified glances into the lives of everyday Americans. This book collects the portraits that ran from September 15 through February 5 in the paper's " A Nation Challenged" section, with the hope that future printings will include the rest of those who were remembered. Each page is filled with the kaleidoscope of perspectives and passions that were lost that day, with victims ranging from firefighters and mothers to waiters and financiers in an equality of bereavement. Unfortunately, the look and feel of the newspaper are maintained, along with the poor picture quality, detracting from the often poetic text. That aside, it is recommended for all public libraries, where there will no doubt be demand. [One copy will be given to each victim's family, and all proceeds from the book go to benefit the New York Times 9/11 Neediest Fund. Ed.] Rachel Collins, "Library Journal" Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
8.10(w) x 13.08(h) x 1.68(d)

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Howell Raines

Nothing published in the New York Times during my twenty-four years on the newspaper has elicited a reader response like the one we've gotten on "Portraits of Grief." Those who've been here longer say the same thing. I'm convinced that the core of the portraits' appeal lies in our metropolitan desk's decision to cast these stories as snapshots of lives interrupted as they were being actively lived, rather than in the traditional obituary form. Bill Moyers suggested during a journalism conference at Columbia University that the impact of these stories would change the form of newspaper obituary writing. I can't predict whether that's right. In fact, I rather doubt it, since traditional New York Times obituary is a powerful storytelling format in itself and is entirely appropriate to the task of recording the key facts of prominent (or notorious) lives.

But "Portraits of Grief" reminds us of the democracy of death, an event that lies in the future of every person on the planet. The scary force of that universal fact sometimes inspires in the most sober soul an impulse to flee into a carpe diem mood of headlong hedonism. I think, however, that the 1,910 stories reported in our paper and collected here in Portraits 9/11/01 stir an entirely different feeling. When I read them, I am filled with an awareness of the subtle nobility of everyday existence, of the ordered beauty of quotidian life for millions of Americans, of the unforced dedication with which our fellow citizens go about their duties as partners, employers or employees, as planters of community gardens, coaches of the young, joyful explorers of this great land and the world beyond its shores. These lives, bundled together so randomly into a union of loving memory by those terrible cataclysms of September 11, remind us of what Walt Whitman knew: "The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem."

There was poetry, too, in watching my colleagues on the metropolitan staff report and record these stories. The glory of a great newsroom is its each-one-teach-one ethos. They taught and learned together, s Christine Kay conceptualized the project, Wendell Jamieson managed the complex task of tracing hundreds of stories, and their leader, Jon Landman, the metropolitan editor, resisted any suggestion that we abandon our rhythm of a page or two pages every day until the end of 2001. Among the reporters, another kind of democracy-- the democracy of craftsmanship-- came into play. Often, on so huge a story as the World Trade Center disaster, the writing of shorter pieces falls to younger reporters. On the "Portraits" project, it became an emblem of pride to join in the largely anonymous labor of creating these pieces; some of our most senior correspondents insisted on participating.

I have seen reporters crying at their telephones, even as they summoned the professional discipline to keep reporting, keep writing until the task was done. They were inspired and sometimes driven by an awareness of what these pieces had come to mean to the grieving families and friends and to that larger community of Americans who mourned for all the World Trade Center victims, strangers to them or not, just as in earlier day their parents mourned for the dead of Pearl Harbor. We received thousands os letters and e-mails from our readers. On the very morning I sat down to write these words, the following e-mail showed up on my screen from a lawyer in San Francisco. I thought if caught the national spirit that collected around the "Portraits of Grief" and in a quiet, sincere way validated the work of the staff…

That letter reaffirmed to me that we had accomplished the core mission of the New York Times, which is to serve the information needs of a thoughtful, engaged readership that spans all regions of the country and indeed all ages and interests. In short, we set out to make worthy journalism, not to create a memorial. If in the course of doing our jobs we created a monument in words to those who were lost, we are proud to have honored them and their families with our labors.

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