Pulitzer Prize winner confronts his hero through ‘Fallaci’

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Lawrence Wright brings the premiere of Fallaci, a play about the last days of journalist Oriana Fallaci to Berkeley Rep. Photo: Benjamin Sklar

By Adam Brinklow

Lawrence Wright is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 and the much buzzed-about Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and The Prison of Belief.

His new play Fallaci (world premiere March 8 at Berkeley Rep) is a fictionalized account of the last days of legendary Italian journalist-provacateur Oriana Fallaci as she confronts her own mortality as well as the skepticism of a young journalist who questions her methods and legacy. San Francisco Magazine talked to Wright about how he faced up to his hero.

What does someone like Fallaci, an audacious reporter whose heyday was the ‘70s and ‘80s, have in common with L. Ron Hubbard, the subject of your latest book, or Osama bin Laden, whom you wrote about in ‘The Looming Tower’?
They all set out to change the world, and in some ways they did. In the case of Fallaci I wanted to find out the real motivations under her brash, confident exterior. [As a young journalist] I was overwhelmed with admiration for her. She was a small, sexy woman and she could stand down world leaders and make them cower. She made journalism sexy.


Then, after 9/11, she reappeared like some wraith with this series of anti-Islam books, and she was weighing in on a subject I knew a lot about. I still admired her courage, but I began to see something I hadn’t detected in her work before: the opportunism and the appeal to prejudice. Having the opportunity to thrash it out with Oriana helped me sort out my own thinking. [The play] is an argument I’m having with her.

The play’s other character is a young journalist who attacks Fallaci about some of her tactics. Is she a stand-in for you?
The argument that she places before Oriana is one that I would have had with her. [But] the character was very much informed by my relationship with women in the Arab world. The conflict they were having in their relationship with the West and modernity and Islam and their own femininity — all those were elements I was working with.

You’ve said that America lacks political leadership and that puts greater responsibility on journalists. Did you have that in mind when writing ‘Fallaci’?
Journalism is under attack and it’s in retreat, and I worry. I honor Oriana for what she did for the trade, [but] she was a pioneer in confrontational journalism. She also created the celebrity journalist. I don’t think we need more of that. Oriana loved drama, and I don’t really believe that that’s the role of a journalist.

Continue reading on San Francisco Magazine.

Fallaci runs March 8-April 21 at the Roda Theatre, 2025 Addison St, Berkeley. Tickets ($30-$50). Wright will appear at a free speaking event at the Berkeley Rep, March 4. See Berkeley Rep’s website  for details.

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