and Robert Kolker
Anyone who knows me knows Oprah has been my Queen for over three decades! She first opened my (and soon the world’s) eyes to understanding everyone has a story worth telling back in 1986. Oprah Winfrey, a little black girl with big dreams-turned self-made powerhouse against all odds, showed me (us) how everyone wants and deserves to have a voice and to find meaning in their life.
The Oprah Show was the backdrop of my teens, twenties, and thirties, first watched live or recorded on VHS and later Tivoed or DVR’d. For all 25 seasons, as I left high school and a family I wanted to run from, went to college, to graduate school, into the teaching world, through heartbreak, through new love and marriage, and then through kids, Oprah was the sage advisor I looked to.
Millions upon millions of peoples’ hearts and minds were opened as we listened to Oprah’s celebrity interviews and, in my opinion, more importantly, everyday peoples’ stories we never would have known. Vulnerability was no longer a bad word as we came to understand by telling our honest truth and listening to others we were connecting and finding compassion.
We joined as Oprah shed sad tears about violence, sexual abuse, and difficult subjects. We joined in her celebrations and rejoiced with happy tears as she modeled the value in love and generosity. Festive holiday giveaways and The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls showed us how giving was the greatest gift of all.
From day one I joined Oprah’s Book Club, grateful to rekindle my love for fiction, especially during those lonely years of raising babies and being stuck at home without intellectual stimulation. I devoured her email newsletters with uplifting and informative articles I was always heard quoting. To this day, my family and friends love making fun of me when it comes to my devotion to Oprah. A favorite long-running joke is for my husband and daughters to send me pictures when they go out without me. Oprah is photoshopped next to them. “Look what you missed?” it might say as they stand in front of the toppings at the frozen yogurt shop.
A few years ago, I sat to write a true family saga about my family’s five generations of mental illness, four suicides, bipolar, depression, affairs, ADHD, substance abuse, infidelity, class issues, homelessness, pop culture, and so much more. In my dreams, I sat next to Oprah who was interviewing me and asking thoughtful questions about the meaning of it all.
“When you pay attention to what feeds your energy, you move in the direction of the life for which you were intended.” -Oprah
At the moment my true family saga is being shelved because the story is still unfolding. But what my writing and soul-searching did was lead me to my purpose, something I would have never found had I not listened to Oprah’s advice on finding faith in your own intuition. My avid mental health advocacy for families took me down a road to podcasting, a very personal medium. Daily, I channel my inner Oprah as I interview celebrity guests and everyday people about overcoming obstacles as I ponder, “What would Oprah ask?”
Last week I had the extreme pleasure and the privilege to interview Robert Kolker, the author of Hidden Valley Road. I absolutely love this true family saga about a midcentury American family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia. The Galvin family is science’s great hope in the quest to understand the disease and to rid the stigma and shame against it. I knew I had to have Robert on Dear Family, the Podcast because the story he told is about how family secrets and mental illness can cause immense shame, heartache, and trauma. The story is also about hope and forgiveness, science and history, and heart and soul. I reached out to Robert back in early January and was so delighted to receive an advanced copy (before any shiny O labels were printed).
Two months later, when I learned Oprah was choosing Hidden Valley Road for her book club, I was thrilled for Robert Kolker, an incredible editor, writer, researcher, and interviewer in his own right. Robert never dreamed it possible because Oprah usually picks works of fiction, but she saw the importance of this story and how it read like fiction. Watching Robert’s reaction on Oprah’s Book Club Instagram Live as Oprah popped Champagne to announce her 2020 book club pick made it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list was priceless. It was a writer’s dream come true, one I’d get to speak to Robert about.
Days later, I dissected Oprah’s Book Club and New York Time’s bestselling book, Hidden Valley Road with Robert Kolker, the author himself. I felt giddy when he thanked me for taking interest in his project before the heavy-duty promotion of the book. My one degree of separation from the Queen herself never felt far as I considered, “What would Oprah ask?”
The conversation flowed and I could tell Robert appreciated the time and thoughtfulness I’d put into crafting questions after pouring over his book with careful detail. The opportunity to interview a master storyteller was a gift I will forever be grateful for; a gift that feels profound as I encourage others to find mental wellness for themselves and for their families.
Two weeks after Robert Kolker’s Dear Family, podcast episode aired, I got the incredible opportunity to share another one of Oprah’s Book Club picks, Wally Lamb. We discuss among other things his writing career, being an executive producer on the HBO limited series, “I Know This Much Is True,” and the Birdsey twins, one who is a paranoid schizophrenic. I of course asked Wally all about how Oprah helped launch iscareer and turned him into a household name.
Wally Lamb- "I Know This Much Is True" Author & Executive Producer of the HBO Limited Series about…
Wally Lamb is the author of not one, but six New York Times best-selling novels that speak to generations of readers…
When I opened up my Instagram and saw Oprah’s Book Club shared my image of us as twins, I giggled like crazy and ran around my house screaming with excitement. My dog barked and my husband came out to see what all the commotion was over. Even my teenage daughters were impressed with their mom. I vibrated with excitement picturing Oprah giving the thumbs up to share an image of us standing side by side.
I still dream of one day sitting side by side next to Oprah under her beautiful oak trees in Montecito discussing life’s purpose and meaning. Birds chirp in the background and ocean breezes carry the smell of orange blossoms. I picture her dogs at our feet, and because the coronavirus pandemic is over, we hold hands after a particularly earth-shattering a-ha moment. I cry happy tears as she smiles back with the warmth of a million suns.
To hear Rachel interview Robert Kolker on Dear Family, the Podcast, listen here:
Robert Kolker- "Hidden Valley Road" Author & Oprah's Book Club Pick about The Most Mentally Ill…
ROBERT KOLKER's book Hidden Valley Road is currently Oprah's Book Club pick and already at the top of the New York…
For more from Rachel, check out Dear Family, the Podcast here: