By Rick Coates
When the National Writers Series announced the first half of their season
in January, co-founder Doug Stanton said there would be some additional
surprise guests added along the way. One of those additional guests is
bestselling author Mitch Albom, who will take the City Opera House stage
this Wednesday April 6 at 7:30 pm.
In addition to his books Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet
in Heaven, For One More Day and Have a Little Faith, Mitch Albom has
been a well-known sports writer for the Detroit Free Press since 1985.
Today, he writes not only commentary on sports but on the issues of the
day. He is also a regular contributor to the popular ESPN program, Sports
Reporters, that airs on Sunday mornings.
Since all of that is not enough to keep Albom busy, he also hosts The
Mitch Albom Show on WJR Radio out of Detroit weeknights from 5 to 7 p.m.,
the show streams live at www.wjr.net and via a smart phone app.
Shortly after the earthquake in Haiti last year, Albom became active in a
foundation that he now oversees not only helping to save lives of children
but insuring that these children are loved, fed, educated and kept
medically sound. He has led several mission trips to Haiti and now
considers this work his full-time job and his work as a journalist, author
and radio show host a collection of part time jobs.
Now 52, Albom began his professional career not as a journalist but as a
performer and songwriter. After college, he even did a stint in Europe
singing Elvis Presley and Ray Charles songs. While in New York writing and
performing music, he began volunteering at a small weekly paper and
eventually went to Columbia Universitys Graduate School of Journalism and
also obtained an MBA from Columbia Universitys Graduate School of
Albom paid his tuition in part by working as a piano player. Several of
his songs have been recorded by others, including the hit song Hit
Somebody -The Hockey Song, sung by Warren Zevon. He still keeps his
musical chops by being a member of The Rock Bottom Remainders, a band made
of successful writers including Stephen King and Dave Barry; in 18 years
the group has raised more than $2 million touring the country for
Mitch Albom took time out after his most recent trip to Haiti two weeks
ago to answer a few questions and give a preview of his presentation on
Northern Express: You just returned from Haiti. How many times have you
been down there since the earthquake a little over a year ago? What are
you doing down there?
Albom: This was my ninth trip. I am operating an orphanage down there now.
Along with some others from Detroit, we started helping this orphanage out
right after the earthquake by bringing down teams of people from
carpenters, plumbers and roofers to rebuild it. Over time we also saw that
it was in dire straits financially and operationally and was in danger of
going under. So I have taken it over and now I run it, which means being
there a lot more often. This past trip was to admit six new kids and we
expect to admit 40 more this year, adding to the 70 kids already there.
Now we are adding a school to the grounds, so there is a lot going on down
NE: How do manage your schedule?
Albom: I dont do as much as everybody thinks I do. The list is long if
you put it down on paper, but I am not really full-time at anything. I am
not really a full time columnist as I dont write five columns a week; I
write a couple, and during slow sports times I may go several weeks
without writing anything. I am on the radio but I get a lot of time off
for a radio person. I write books but I dont write a book every year. I
write plays, screenplays and movies but I dont write them every year
The charity work probably takes up more of my time than anything else
right now and I like this work and I find it rewarding.
My secret is I compartmentalize everything. Typically, mornings I spend
writing, mid-days I divvy up on various projects, late afternoons I focus
on the radio show, and weekends I save for various other projects and
personal time. Keeping all my projects straight is really about focusing
on whatever I am working on at the moment and not thinking about any other
projects until the one I am working on is completed.
NE: What is your opinion of the state of the newspaper industry today?
Albom: It is in trouble and anyone with eyes can see that. I think it is
morphing into something different and it is obviously becoming more
digitally and web-based. I never thought I would be working for a
newspaper that didnt distribute to home subscribers four days a week.
I think the quality of people working for newspapers is still good. There
is not the funding for journalists to take on big projects or to travel
anymore. It seems today that only adults read papers; it is really hard to
find a kid or even a teenager who reads a newspaper and that doesnt bode
well for the future.
I think there is always going to be a place for news-reporting and
news-reading and maybe it is coming from a digital device that talks to
you in a language and voice you choose and maybe it is a celebrity like
Steve Carell reciting the news for you; who knows with technology today.
What I worry about is the standards of it, I think the Web has diluted
journalism terribly in that people see stuff on the Web and figure since
it is printed, it must be true. There is a big difference between a person
who puts a blog up operating from their basement and someone who went to
journalism school and has worked for good editors who have taught them the
way to do things. As journalists we are taught that there are certain
rules and principles to follow, and someone with no journalistic training
and not following these rules or principles can put up a blog; and when
you look at the two, you cant tell them apart. I think that is
NE: What do see for the future of Detroit and Michigan?
Albom: I wouldnt live here in Detroit if I didnt see a future for it, I
love Detroit and Michigan and the people who live here. I am concerned for
its future because the best resource we have -- people -- is dwindling.
The numbers that just came out from the census is proof of that and I
could have predicted that before that census ever came out. I am in
Detroit every day and there just is nobody here. You cant have the city
and the state you love if all the people leave.
The people are not leaving because of the weather, they are leaving
because of opportunity or the lack of it. Its not because we dont have a
Broadway here, its because we dont have jobs. We have to find a way to
make Michigan attractive to young, intelligent people, who are going to
be the backbone of the future of this state. If we dont, we are going to
end up with two groups, the poor and the elderly, who are the two groups
who cant leave easily. Everyone else who wants opportunity or work are
I am very concerned about the brain drain on our state and it is one
of the reasons I have pushed for this film tax incentive to continue. I
have witnessed how it has kept young people here and even attracted
new, young, creative, energetic people who were not living here before.
Now all of this is in jeapardy and so I hope they find a way to
continue that (for additional comments from Albom see his Detroit Free
Press column on this subject at www.mitchalbom.com) .
NE: What Michigan sports teams are on the rise and who is in trouble?
Albom: Certainly the U of M basketball team is back and on the rise. I
think the Lions are on the rise and should be a very good football team
next year and maybe even have an outside chance at the playoffs. I think
the Pistons are in trouble, and for that matter, the NBA in general is in
trouble. While the three guys going to Miami Heat was good for them, it
has made every other team look somewhat boring in comparison, and that is
not good for the league.
As for the Pistons, they have all sorts of issues and at the top of the
list is they do not even know who is going to own them next year. The Red
Wings and Tigers are well-run organizations and every year put themselves
in a position to have a chance to be successful.
I am interested in seeing how Michigan football does over the next couple
of years. I think Brady Hoke has the potential to be a great coach for
them and get their program on track. Michigan State football has come on
strong under Coach Dantonio and should be strong this season, and despite
a setback this year Michigan State basketball is one of the top programs
in the country.
NE: Give us an overview of your talk at the National Writers Series.
Albom: I will certainly talk about my most recent book Have a Little
Faith that just came out in paperback and how the book came together. I
will also talk about how the book continued to be a story, as the pastor I
had written about died as the book was coming out and it changed the
story, so I added another chapter.
I will talk about writing about your own life and certainly I will talk
about whatever anyone in attendance wants me talk about. I like talking
about writing and it is certainly something I dont do very often. I will
feel the audience and see what they want to know about writing and go from
Those attending An Evening With Mitch Albom Wednesday April 6 at the
City Opera House will receive a copy of his last book, the 2009 best
seller Have a Little Faith, that was released in paperback last month.
Author Doug Stanton will join Albom on stage and the evening will include
an audience Q&A and a post-event reception featuring a book signing and
dessert courtesy of Grand Traverse Pie Company.
For ticket info, see www.cityoperahouse.org or call the box office at
231-941-8082. To learn more about the National Writers Series go to
nationalwritersseries.org and to keep up with Mitch Albom check his
site out at mitchalbom.com.