After the Island: Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni ’82, former member of the Loomis Chaffee Log, is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist whose work has appeared in the Detroit Free Press, The New York Post, and The New York Times. At The Times Bruni is currently an Op-Ed columnist, and previously served as its Chief Restaurant Critic. Bruni graduated from UNC Chapel Hill and attended the Columbia School of Journalism, and returned to Loomis in 2013 as the Commencement speaker. In his new book, Where You Go Is Not Who’ll You Be, Bruni explores the flawed college admissions process from a perspective that disregards college prestige.

SC: How did your time at Loomis shape you? Do you recall anything about writing for the Loomis Chaffee Log or writing in general while here that has helped your career as a journalist?

FB: Loomis allowed me to indulge my curiosity with interesting history and religion and English electives that other schools might not have had. It turned me on to learning in a very special way. And by having extracurricular venues like the Log and the Loom, it gave me the chance to begin to try out my chops as a writer. That was very helpful. I wrote music reviews and movie reviews, if I recall, for the Log. I remember writing a review of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” or of Stevie Nicks’s “Bella Donna” — one or the other. I remember having so much fun with that, and it was in my mind when, decades later, I had the chance to meet and interview and profile Nicks for the New York Times.

JS: Your new book shines light on the importance of individual experience and pursuit over the prestige of an educational institution. What, if any, role did your own experience in competitive ‘elite’ institutions, where collegiate prestige and pressure are so emphasized, play in your forming such a unique, and arguably unexpected viewpoint?

FB: I don’t think it’s such a unique viewpoint, but it’s informed somewhat by the trajectory that Loomis put me on, in the sense that Loomis nominated me for a Morehead scholarship at UNC-Chapel Hill and thus confronted me with a decision: Yale or Chapel Hill. That made me reflect on what college is and should be about. That made me weigh prestige versus unfamiliarity, the known versus the unknown. Those themes are prevalent in the book, partly for that reason.

JS: How does one go about becoming a columnist and restaurant critic (or a copy editor, or an intern for that matter) for the New York Times?

FB: One doesn’t plan it. At least I didn’t. It’s best not to set your sights on ONE job or on ONE company or organization, because life is all about curve balls. Just hone your talent, build your skills and make sure you’re as competent as you can be in the field of your choice. Then the good gigs, which may not be the ones you envision, will come. Aim for competence, not for a given label.

JS: Do you consider yourself a gay journalist, or a journalist who happens to be gay? Is there a difference?

FB: I’m a journalist who happens to be gay, for sure. ‘Gay journalist’ would connote an approach to work that’s entirely about sexual orientation. My sexual orientation surely informs the way I see the world–any fundamental aspect of identity, like gender or skin color or socioeconomic background or physical appearance, does–but it’s not the sum of who I am or my lode star as a journalist.

JS: Do you have any advice for current high school students aspiring to be journalists, particularly considering the drastically and continually changing landscape of journalism?

FB: That’s very, very tough to answer, BECAUSE of what you cite: the changing landscape. My advice would be not to lock yourself into any ONE subject matter, and to be sure you have a passion for journalism, because you’re going to have to work very hard, with no definite payoff. That means you really need to be animated and jazzed by the work. And if you are, you’ll probably be good at it, and you’ll maximize the chances of forging a fulfilling career.