Sabina Clarke has been fascinated by words and images since she was a small child. It was good training for her future interviews.
Sabina Clarke has been fascinated by words and images since she was a small child. “My favorite toy was a white telephone,” she told the Local in an interview last week. “I sat talking into that toy telephone, seated on my bedroom windowsill for hours, engaged in animated conversations with imaginary people.”
Those imaginary conversations were good training for the interviews with real-life newsmakers Clarke has been conducting for 36 years for area newspapers, with most of her subjects being Irish, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Irish Edition, Chestnut Hill Local, Irish-American News and Art Matters.
Now Clarke has compiled many of those interviews into a new book, “Telling Stories,” which she has just published through Biblio Publishing of Columbus, Ohio.
Clarke, a Mt. Airy native, former Chestnut Hill resident and graduate of Gwynedd Mercy Academy and Chestnut Hill College, began writing for various community newspapers in 1987. She interviewed people such as artist Jamie Wyeth, anti-war activist Father Daniel Berrigan, former President Richard Nixon's White House Counsel John Dean, Philadelphia advocate for the homeless Sister Mary Scullion, former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier, Freedom Theatre founder John Allen, and Gray Panthers founder Maggie Kuhn.
But perhaps her most controversial interview was with Gerry Adams, former president of Sinn Fein, an Irish republican and democratic socialist political party. Adams had been banned from British and Irish media because Sinn Fein was behind the Provisional Irish Republican Army, which claimed responsibility for many bombings during a violent conflict that lasted from about 1968 to 1998. It was a period of time that Irish and British leadership referred to as “The Troubles.”
Clarke interviewed him nonetheless. He used the occasion to say that “I am involved in a great project to end British government involvement in my country, to end partition and create a new and just society for all Irish people.” Adams, who spent many years in prison, is now 74.
Another of Clarke's subjects who was frequently in the world news during those years was Bernadette Devlin, a radical feminist Catholic activist and civil rights leader from Northern Ireland who narrowly survived an assassination attempt in 1981. In 2003, she was barred from entering the U.S. and was deported on the grounds of posing “a serious threat to the U.S.” She is now 76.
“This woman who has been cast as Ireland's mini-skirted version of Joan of Arc has been eclipsed in our collective memory and into her country's political history,” Clarke writes. “Today she lives in a housing project in Coalisland (in Northern Ireland), just four miles from where she was shot eight times.”
When asked about her children growing up amid so much violence, Devlin told Clarke, “This is the only life they've ever known. They were born into the war. They grew up with the war as a background. Politics is their life. They play in rock bands and do everything other kids do against the backdrop of war.”
Clarke, who recently moved to Wayne, got to know the publisher of her book, Robert Sims, in 2011 when she was conducting a two-part interview for the Chestnut Hill Local on Morris Wolff, the attorney for Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg, because he had written a book titled “Whatever Happened to Raoul Wallenberg?”
(Wolff lived on Mermaid Lane in Chestnut Hill for many years. One daughter, Lesley, graduated from Springside School in 1993. Another daughter, Michelle, also attended Springside School.)
Clarke, who is currently reviewing books for New York publishers, said she did not have trouble connecting with any of her boldface interview subjects “since I had various outlets that I was representing, so I was lucky, I guess. But I do recall not being able to get an interview with Bill Clinton about 10 or 12 years ago.”
My own favorite interviews in the book, which is extremely entertaining and illuminating, are those with Scullion, Berrigan, author Joe Queenan and animal book author Susan Chernak McElroy.
Can Clarke reveal who her favorite interviewee was and why? “I really do not have any favorites,” she said. “They are all amazing in their uniqueness. I like and appreciate all of them for different reasons.”
In 2021, Clarke, who hopes to have book signings in the area in the near future, also co-authored a play, “Rendezvous in Bangkok…Who Killed Thomas Merton,” which made its world premiere at the Commodore Barry Arts and Cultural Center in West Mt. Airy.
For more information, visit bibliopublishing.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org