Hoda Kotb, a host of the Today show and author of two earlier nonfiction bestsellers, has collaborated for the third time with Tennessee-based author Jane Lorenzi to produce Where We Belong: Journeys That Show Us the Way. The book offers seven short accounts, most with accompanying photos, of people from different backgrounds who discovered a sense of purpose and direction in their lives. “This book is my way of confirming—maybe even to myself—that it’s possible, no matter when, to create a life that’s both fun and rewarding,” Kotb writes.
Stories in the collection include a young woman who escaped an impoverished childhood to become a chef, a doctor, and ultimately an expert on public nutrition; a daughter of Muhammad Ali who decided to follow her famous father into the ring; and a religious couple who faced a test of their faith. What they share is a moment where they sense that they have the found the place they should be and the work they should be doing. In advance of her Nashville appearance, Kobt recently answered questions via email from Chapter 16 about her coauthor, her subjects, and her method.
Chapter 16: This is your third book with the Tennessee-based writer Jane Lorenzini. How did you meet? Any theories about what makes the two of you such an effective writing team?
Hoda Kotb: We met in Ft. Myers, Florida, when we both worked as reporters and anchors for WINK-TV. We’ve been dear friends ever since. We both get excited about the same types of stories and book concepts. Jane knows my voice and is a solid researcher and very detail-oriented. One of my strengths in the process is marketing the books. I love meeting the readers around the country. We both respect each other’s opinions and approaches to the work.
Chapter 16: There must be a story behind what led you to the topic of people who change life directions midstream. Can you tell it?
Kotb: Actually, as with Ten Years Later, we brainstormed with Jon Karp, the president and publisher of Simon & Schuster, and the theme is simply a universal one. The need to feel like you belong in life—in whatever aspect—resonated with us, and we felt it would with a wide range of readers as well.
Chapter 16: How did you choose the people you ended up profiling?
Kotb: We found all but one (and the celebrities) on the Internet. One story was offered to us that had been written about before, but we added the element of featuring the wife’s point of view. Sarah, of Lindley and Sarah, was truly the rock that made their journey work.
Chapter 16: You have a gift for getting people to open up about their intimate lives. What’s your secret for helping interview subjects feel comfortable?
Kotb: Actively listening and genuinely being interested. People want to tell their stories, and they can tell whether you respect them and their words.
Chapter 16: Several of your profile subjects expressed a growing awareness of nutrition and fitness. For you, what’s the connection between healthy living and finding one’s best path in life?
Kotb: When you feel better you think more clearly—your brain’s firing on all cylinders. I work out in the morning so I can ride the energy wave all day long.
Chapter 16: On Today and in various public appearances you are a very funny person—any chance of a humor book down the line?
Kotb: Sure. We love to laugh, and if you have people laughing you have them listening.
Michael Ray Taylor teaches journalism at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. He is the author of several books of nonfiction and coauthor of a new textbook, Creating Comics as Journalism, Memoir and Nonfiction.