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City Desk has consistently returned thumbs-down verdicts on Washington Post Staff Writer DeNeen Brown and her literary devices. Any loyal Post reader knows the Brown MO—excessive second person narratives, purple prose bleeding off the page, and lots of italics.
Today, though, Brown pressed CTRL+i to stupendous effect. In a piece co-authored with Richard Leiby and titled “The Very Image of Affirmation,” Brown capably and compellingly inventoried the reactions of African-American women to Michelle Obama‘s poise, stature, and presence as First Lady in abeyance. The story’s central storytelling device was to use italics to convey a conversation about Ms. Obama at a hair salon on Georgia Avenue NW. The piece toggled back and forth between the salon comments and the input of academics and other experts on the same topic. Whenever readers alighted on quotes in itals, they knew they were listening in to the hair salon discussion, as follows:
“She is educated. She is not like ‘Michelle the housewife.’ It’s ‘Michelle the attorney,’ ” says McRae.
“She is smart. She is not an airhead. She’s not the pretty girl. She’s not the ugly girl. She’s not the trophy wife.”
“Nobody wants to see anybody in a Chanel suit,” says Diavian Jeffreys, 24.
“I look at her head to toe, and I can’t find one fault,” says Nolan.
Aziza Gibson-Hunter, a non-italicized quotee in the story, was impressed with Brown’s keyboard work: “It gives you a very good feel for how black folks talk and interact with each other,” says Gibson-Hunter. “It gives you a really village feel.”
Another of the story’s subjects wasn’t quite so impressed. “Most of us who don’t work in media don’t understand what you guys do or why you do it,” says Alice M. Thomas. Of course, Thomas hadn’t yet read the piece.