Inside Media: Special Investigations

September 19, 2009

Guest: Steve Luxenberg

By Lesette R. Heath, special programs coordinator

Steve Luxenberg likes to get to the bottom of things. But the former head of The Washington Post's investigative desk never expected to uncover the truth about a long-held family secret.

His late mother had hidden the existence of Aunt "Annie," who was institutionalized at 21, and died decades later in an asylum.

In the book, "Annie's Ghost: A Journey into a Family Secret," Luxenberg uses his reporter's know-how to delve into the mystery surrounding his aunt and why his mother would keep such a secret. After taking a two-year leave of absence from the Post, Luxenberg "immersed himself into the story."

"I had to go back and find my mother's friends, anyone who knew her," he said.

He also interviewed several sources, from doctors to mental health experts, who could shed light on Annie's ordeal. It proved to be a painstaking process, given Luxenberg's commitment to accuracy and detail.

"Investigating mental health issues is very difficult, because there are confidentiality laws that prevent even family members in many states from finding out information," Luxenberg said.

However, others like the archivists he "fell in love with," were more than willing to cooperate.

Since the book's spring debut, critics, including The Baltimore Sun and The Jerusalem Post, have fallen in love with the story of the two sisters for its blend of journalism, memoir and social history. But Luxenberg pointed out that the book should not be mistaken for a catharsis.

"This is not a book of confession or judgment," he said. "I try to stand in my mother's shoes and look at her perspective."

Luxenberg signed copies of his book following the program.

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