Familiar voice

NPR host Scott Simon to cover every beat for Chico audience

Scott Simon, author and host of NPR’s <i>Weekend Edition Saturday</i>. (Inset: Simon’s latest book, <i>Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other</i>.)

Scott Simon, author and host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. (Inset: Simon’s latest book, Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other.)

Photo By Will o’leary

Chico Performances presents Scott Simon at Laxson Tuesday, May 10, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $14-$23.
Laxson Auditorium
Chico State

Hearing Scott Simon’s voice over the phone felt a lot like getting into a snuggly robe and a pair of cozy slippers at the end of a long day—familiar, comfortable, warm and soothing.

I’d heard Simon countless times on National Public Radio—he is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday, a two-hour-long, weekly news show that is broadcast locally on KCHO 91.7 FM—but it was particularly satisfying to hear him in conversation.

Simon was speaking from the NPR headquarters/studios in Washington, D.C., where he was starting out his work week on a recent Tuesday. He is coming to Chico State’s Laxson Auditorium on May 10 to give a talk titled “Covering War and Peace, Sports and Celebs, Diversity and Family.”

Simon—a longtime reporter who first joined NPR in 1977 as its Chicago bureau chief—has covered everything from wars in the Middle East and Central America, and civil war and famine in Ethiopia, to the latest news on “crunk”-pop star Ke$ha and the Barry Bonds steroids-in-sports saga, as well as his personal reflections on the joys of adopting.

The astute and often amusing 59-year-old knows a thing or two about, well, a lot of things. He’s even written several books, including Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption, and Pretty Birds, a highly praised novel centered on the life of a young female sniper in Sarajevo in the early 1990s.

Despite being the son of a stand-up comedian, Ernie Simon, Scott Simon insisted: “I have my mother’s sense of humor.” After his father’s death, his mother, an actress named Patricia Lyons, married an ex-minor-league baseball player and Civil War scholar named Ralph Newman, who ran a Chicago bookstore called the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop.

“I dedicated my book Home and Away to him,” he said of Newman, who entered his life when Simon was in his late teens. “He didn’t push it,” Simon offered respectfully, speaking of Newman’s gentle approach to stepfatherhood. “I can now put into words the great thing that he did, now that I’m a father.”

Simon and his wife, French documentary filmmaker Caroline Richard, have two young daughters, Elise and Lina, whom they adopted as babies from China in 2004 and 2007, respectively.

Newman, he said, was a “good example. … I admired him so much. He was a real figure of grace. He didn’t have to love me, but he did.”

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When asked to comment on what he thought were the current “big” stories, Simon—whose father was Jewish and his mother Irish Catholic—responded that “the underreported story of this past census … is how the ethnic diversity of America is everywhere, not just in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami. It’s in small towns all over—in Mississippi, where there are a number of people from India and Korea, and in North Carolina, where there are many people from Honduras and Cambodia—and it’s in individual families like ours.”

Simon said that, while his multiethnic Jewish family “attracts attention in France” on their twice-a-year visits there, “here [in the United States], it’s nothing.” He said he was traveling recently with his wife and children by cab in Houston, Texas, where the “Algerian cab driver was speaking French to my wife and to my [Chinese] daughters—French is their first language.”

Simon, who said that he attended his first gay-rights parade as a kid in Chicago, added that “the progress we’ve made in gay rights is amazing … and now our little girls are happy to have gay godparents—two men who are married.”

Anti-Semitism, he lamented, is “still here,” though.

“You ought to take a look at my e-mails.”