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From El Salvador to apartheid: Detroit native reflects on time as foreign correspondent

Melville House, 2017

There is a new book out from Detroit native and journalist Lynda Schuster, Dirty Wars and Polished Silver: The Life and Times of a War Correspondent Turned Ambassatrix. The book, by the former Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent, details her days on the job, in war zones and in far-off corners.

Schuster joined us on Stateside to discuss growing up in Detroit and finding herself in her adventurous career.

On her introduction to conflict and travel

Schuster grew up in Detroit but always wanted to get out of the city. “I basically ran away from home at age 17 after finishing high school and landed about five minutes later in the middle of the 1973 Yom Kippur War,” she said. “Yeah, it should have scared the daylights out of me but instead it just whetted my appetite for adventure.” Despite the danger, or perhaps because of it, Schuster became intrigued. “As I write in the book, as long as you’re not dying, war is oddly exhilarating, or at least I thought so when I was 17.”

On her first experiences as a war correspondent

Immediately after graduating from the University of Michigan, Schuster was hired by the Wall Street Journal. She was placed at the Dallas Bureau, which was responsible for Central American coverage at the time. She quickly became the correspondent for the region in the early 1980s, “when the Reagan administration was becoming increasingly more involved in the wars down there,” she said. In Costa Rica, Schuster met her first husband, who was a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.

On the transition away from journalism

Schuster married an American diplomat while she was in South Africa, covering apartheid.  “I decided that I could give up the reporter’s notepads for the little pillbox hats and white gloves of diplomacy, but still live a life of adventure and write about it,” she said. The transition was “difficult,” she continued. “It sort of felt like one minute I was Lois Lane, this kind of steely-eyed girl reporter with the overnight bag at the ready by her bedside, and the next minute I was Mamie Eisenhower cross-pollinated with Princess Grace. It felt like a bit of a throwback.”

On security risks

Schuster and her husband, the diplomat, lived in Peru for some time for his work. Even outside her life as a foreign correspondent, Schuster still found herself in dangerous situations. “When we got to Peru, our house had been blown up four times by terrorists,” she said. “And any time we traveled outside the house, even just to get ice cream, we went in a three-car bulletproof convoy that packed a small arsenal. We had ten armed bodyguards anywhere we went.”

Listen above for the full conversation.

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