Consider people of all ages, those you know well and those you would like to know. Think about the people who excite you. Perhaps they have great jobs, interesting life stories, great talents or hobbies. They may play major roles in your community. Perhaps they have gone through difficult experiences, or overcome barriers. They probably have a great social media presence, like the woman in the photo above. Or maybe you don’t know much about them at all – you’re just curious to know.
We’re asking you these questions to get you ready for our January profile contest, and we hope you’ll use this as a general brainstorming site, so everyone can inspire your ideas.
To help, you can read this Times Insider article, “In One Person, a Place Story,” which describes Saturday’s profile column. Since 2002, the column has strived for “universalism in personalities around the world”.
Here’s how the piece starts:
A Holocaust survivor plays music in his neighborhood; A farm poet in China who became a world literary celebrity; The man who walks on the ground with his donkey, Judas.
Local personalities from around the world fill in the Saturday Profile feature, which weaves colorful characters into the greater scope of The New York Times’ international coverage. Profiles capture people from all walks of life in countries reported by Times journalists.
They don’t have to be famous,” said Column Editor Kyle Crichton. “They just have to be fun.”
Mr. Crichton, deputy international editor in the London office of The Times, took over the chair of the column shortly after its inception in 2002 and has since crafted it into the weekly staple it is today.
“The driving idea of that was to highlight people you might not really see in the big news cycles,” Crichton said. “It takes you to a corner of the world you didn’t really know existed and lights it up.”
Over 700 people have rated the Saturday Profile profile, and writers and editors published worldwide have contributed.
The Times’ Brussels correspondent Matina Stevis Gridnev usually covers the European Union. But she recently wrote a Saturday Profile profile about her neighbor, Simon Gronovsky, who survived the Holocaust by hiding in attics for 17 months. In April, as Brussels shut itself down to the first wave of the coronavirus, Mr. Gronovsky was touched by memories playing the piano from his window.
“His backyard and backyard are facing each other, so I’ve never met him, never seen him around,” said Ms Stevis-Gridneff. “And then of course we got locked up so we didn’t see anyone around anyway.”
And while the profiles aren’t quite as usual for her, I was pleasantly surprised when the pieces fell into place.
“The genres that require more voice are often a bit daunting for people like me who are used to doing different types of writing,” Ms Stevis-Gridneff said. “But I absolutely love that freedom – that kind of voice, the humanity. It also just felt really different from the incredibly horrific and incredibly heavily reported work I was doing on Covid.”
Once her interview with Mr. Gronovsky was translated from French into English, it only took two days to write the draft.
“It was one of the easiest articles I’ve ever written,” said Ms Stevis-Gridneff. “It came very naturally – his story arc was clear, and his character was very lively.”
She said the reception in her multinational neighborhood was surprisingly pleasant.
Ms Stevis-Gridneff said: “I’ve received emails from neighbors I didn’t know who had sent our story to them from friends in the US or UK.” “I heard from a Belgian woman, a Dutch woman and a Danish man who lived in my building.”
Students, read the entire article, then tell us:
Who in your community would you like to interview? Our questions at the top of this post may have got one person in your mind right away, or you may have a list of many. Tell us about them.
If you need more questions to help you out, we’ve also created a special PDF file filled with additional prompts.
Next, choose one person on your list. Why do you want to meet this person? what do you want to know? What questions would you ask to do this?
Scroll through the Saturday profile column. Which people look particularly interesting? Do any of them spark additional ideas for a local person you could interview?
The profile contest and Saturday’s profile contest have the same goal: to introduce interesting people who are not famous, but provide “glimpses of distinct communities around the world”. As the editor who has been running the column for nearly 20 years explains, “It takes you to a corner of the world you didn’t really know existed and lights it up.” Which small community or “corner of the world” can “light up” your profile? What do you hope readers will understand about this person and where they live?
Want more writing prompts? You can find all our questions in the student opinion column. Teachers, review this guide to learn how you can incorporate them into your classroom.
Students aged 13 and over in the United States and Britain and 16 or older elsewhere are welcome to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.