“It starts like a threeeler!” says Arianna, trilling the “th” and turning the word thriller into something exotic, with her signature Greek accent—an accent she initially takes several minutes to discuss and turn to her humorous advantage.
Those five words about the thriller-nature of Thrive‘s opening contain just about everything you’d want to know from the Castle Conversations evening at Manhattanville College: the pain of discovery in a broken cheek and pool of blood that led Arianna to write the book (read about Thrive’s poetic leanings, here); the lifelong voice that has never left the music of its roots; the edgy humor and mischievous style of a woman who also comes across as remarkably serene.
Serenity fits here at Manhattanville, where the landscape (later redesigned by the designer of Central Park) has a fascinating history that the college traces back to 1661—when a Siwanoy Indian sold the land to one of Long Island’s founders, John Budd. Over the years, the land changed hands a number of times, until it became the idyllic campus of Manhattanville. Along the way, the land has played host to a grist mill at Blind Brook, Western wildflowers and bison and elk and sheep, a Gothic chapel (still standing, and the oldest of three stone chapels remaining in Westchester County), and a castle-like mansion with huge courtyards and an interior that stuns with its dark wood and marble staircases.
Arianna Huffington has come to the right place. She walks on stage with a peace in her presence, a dark dress with velvet-like roses, and a personality that can’t be pinned down.
In one moment she quips that a dinner conversation with a sleep-deprived associate would have gone better if he’d gotten five hours of sleep instead of four. In another moment, she seriously urges the audience to stop worshipping at the shrine of the cell phone recharger.
She is, at turns, visionary (discussing a new “What’s Working” column she feels is vital for humanity’s take on reality through the media) and down-to-earth (giving her email to the whole audience and inviting anyone to “write for us; we want to hear what you have to say.”)
To questions like “What’s the source of your drive and ambition?” she seems truly unsure, but ends up crediting her mother’s approach to failure: “Failure is simply a stepping stone to success.” To potentially bothersome questions like how The Huffington Post blogger model is upsetting journalism, she responds that the paper has created “850 new jobs” and given voice to countless ordinary people who would otherwise not have a chance to be heard. “This is the golden age of journalism, ” she asserts.
Asked about the questionable aims of articles like “The Red Carpet’s 10 Ugliest Dresses, ” she laughs, “The Huffington Post is unashamedly both high and low brow. All the low brow stuff is on the right hand side. We make it easy for you to avoid. Just don’t click. Stay on the left if you want to read Kierkegaard.” And, along similar lines, to the issue of all those stories about all those teachers sleeping with all those students, she adds, “It’s not my fault they did that!”
One gets the sense that Arianna’s drive and ambition, her resilience and boldness, come not only from a mother who encouraged her and her sister to be and do anything and not be afraid to fail, but also from a father who knew what it meant to persevere. He was a journalist who, she notes, “taught me the power of words to move hearts.” Wanting to make his way, he began numerous print newspapers, which she reveals, “all failed, ” adding with a sly smile, “That’s why The Huffington Post will never be in print.”
Overall, the evening served to provide an intriguing glimpse into a multi-faceted woman with business goals that seem sometimes at odds. Though, such odds must certainly be a part of any modern media company—that seeks to balance needs for truth, traffic, and the highlighting of better trends that could advance the human condition. All in all, it was a conversation worth having. Excellent choice, Manhattanville.
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