Ann Godoff, President and Editor-in-Chief of Penguin Press, offers insights into It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario. This book is the story of how the relentless pursuit of truth, in virtually every major theater of war in the twenty-first century, has shaped Addario’s life. What she does, with clarity, beauty, and candor, is to document, often in their most extreme moments, the complex lives of others. It’s her work, but it’s much more than that: it’s her singular calling.
What was the genesis of this project and how would you describe the editor/author process involved in honing the narrative voice and selecting the photographs with Lynsey?
Lynsey wanted to write a book that inspired young people, particularly young women, to follow a path that might make sense only to them. She thought her story could serve as a good example of how dealing with fear head on is a creative act. That’s where we started. Naturally her storytelling is visual first so we worked from there. It’s a memoir and the time line of her life provided the structure, but what was most important to me was that her voice be captured on the page. It’s such a positive voice, such a positive spirit, that I knew when the reader understood that Lynsey was happy in the middle of a war zone because she was able to do the work she was destined to do then everything about her would fall into place. My job was to encourage her not to hold back or place the written word on too high a pedestal, and hold her storytelling on the page to the same standards she would if it were a photograph.
There are a number of harrowing events described in It’s What I Do that graphically portray the horrors of war, how Lynsey chronicled all, and the toll this took on her and those around her. There are also intensely personal revelations about her life, career, loves and fears. In what ways did you help her identify the most compelling ways to weave everything together?
It’s What I Do is intensely personal but then Lynsey is by nature totally candid about everything in her life. If she’s writing about a love affair that takes second, or third place, to an assignment half way around the world you understand that decision from her point of view. It’s not something men feel the need to apologize for, leaving a lover behind in the hope of a good story, and she doesn’t apologize. So when she falls in love with a man who understands her passion for her work and she is changed by the depth of their relationship we’re prepared for that shift. War zones create a special intensity for the creative artist and I asked her to conjure with that too. Making the decision to put yourself in harm’s way when it is your choice to do so and then dealing honestly with the consequences is at the heart of Lynsey’s book.
What aspects of this book do you hope will resonate most powerfully with readers?
Courage comes in small packages and in unexpected places. I think what will resonate most with readers is Lynsey’s determination that fear isn’t going to be the thing that gets her to no; in fact, It’s What I Do is all about Lynsey’s embrace of life, it’s all about yes.