Mike Sager's "literary anthropology" approach to narrative journalism stands on the shoulders of Hunter S. Thompson and Gay Talese. Revenge of the Donut Boys: True Stories of Lust, Fame, Survival and Multiple Personality, a collection of his magazine articles, includes profiles of Ice Cube, Mark Cuban and the Newark, N.J., car thieves of the book's title. The Emory University graduate (and former CL intern) will appear Thursday, Oct. 4, 4 p.m., at Emory University (White Hall, Room 207), and Friday, Oct. 5, 7 p.m., at A Cappella Books (484-C Moreland Ave. 404-681-5128).
How did you get your start at the Washington Post? I worked at night and sort of the first few months started taking everything in and then started to freelance. I would come in during the day in my three-piece plaid interview suit left over from college ... then I'd go home back to Arlington and change into my T-shirt collection and jeans and come back at night and do the 7-at-night-till-3 shift. It was such a psychological battle that people were saying, "Oh, your brother was here." ... I was doing story after story. [Bob] Woodward was the editor of Metro at the time, so I was constantly up his butt and everyone else's butt to get in there. I took a tip over the phone and just went and did it myself. And it turned out to be this Senate investigation. I guess that was finally the thing that Woodward could relate to.
At what point in your career did you think of your own identity as a writer? For so many years, it was never quite right. I mean, it was good, and people liked it. Esquire's really nurtured me. They've let me do this stuff that no one cares about, essentially. I think what I do best is this kind of anthropological literary journalism. No. 1, it has all of the elements of a novel when you tell it, but the way you go report it is like Margaret Mead. You go, sit around the campfire with the tribe, and you live with the tribe, and you keep your mouth shut and your eyes open.
One of the things you tell aspiring writers is to master technique and listen to your heart. It sounds like that heart part has played an even more prominent role in how you write now. I think I'm a big sap to a certain degree. I cry easily. I got it from my mother. I remember being in fights in school and crying really hard when I was fighting. (Laughs.) It's so embarrassing. I guess what I think my gift originally was not with words but a sense of empathy ... and that's what underlies it all, the sense of heart. I can somehow put myself in other people's shoes. People say it's fly on the wall ... but it's more than that. Other people have called it method writing, and it's kind of like that.