'Farm girl' discovers fame writing about Supreme Court

By Staff
Haley Aaron, Hartselle Enquirer
Although Jan Crawford Greenburg has lived in Chicago and now resides in Washington, her thoughts are never far from Alabama. It might have been easy for Greenburg, an ABC News Supreme Court correspondent and best-selling author, to forget her ties to Alabama.
But Greenburg hasn't forgotten.
"All my lucky breaks and opportunities I have to chase back to where they came from, which is Brewer," said the 1983 Brewer graduate.
"Everyone knows I'm from Alabama," said Greenburg of her friends and colleagues in Washington. "If anyone in the office ever has a question about Alabama, they ask me. I'm the resident expert."
Her ties to Alabama are still strong, even though she no longer lives in the state. Her children spend many of their summers visiting her parents. "I want my kids to feel like they grew up in Alabama," she said.
She's been called a "former farm girl", a title she considers inaccurate. "I still feel that I am very much a farm girl," she said. "'You can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl,' is what I tell people."
During the book signing held in her honor at Brewer High School's concourse July 28, it soon became apparent that her hometown hasn't forgotten her, either.
The book signing, which started at 3 p.m., drew a large crowd of former teachers and classmates from Brewer High. Several of her elementary school teachers also attended the event, including her first grade teacher.
At 4:58, two minutes before the signing was scheduled to end, approximately 45 people stood in line waiting to speak with Greenburg and have their books signed. Although lines were long, the mood was reminiscent of a high school reunion, as former classmates recalled their shared experiences.
Although Greenburg has visited Brewer since her graduation for football games, she hasn't been inside the building itself since her senior year. However, revisiting the building wasn't as important as remembering the teachers and friends from Brewer.
"The book signing will give me the chance to show my thanks to many, many people for the opportunities that I've had," she said.
In many ways, the book signing serve as a homecoming, but Greenburg wonders if she ever truly left.
"It's funny. In some ways, I feel like I didn't leave," she said. "My heart's still here."
Greenburg's book, "Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court," spent three weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Greenburg was initially surprised by the book's success.
"I had no idea that it would be a bestseller," Greenburg said. "This was my first book and while you hope people would buy it because it's a lot of work, I never expected it to be a bestseller."
Greenburg's book provides a detailed view of both the Supreme Court and the individual Justices that few individuals other than reporters are able to see.
"Most people don't know who those nine people are," she said of the Justices.
"The whole experience is wonderful," she added. After the publication of her book, she has been invited to speak about her book and the Supreme Court and she often schedules several speeches each week. After her speeches, she fields questions about the Court.
"It's interesting to hear the different perspectives and questions that people have," she said.
Greenburg attributes much of her success to her teachers. "The experiences and opportunities that you have put you on the path for the next thing that you do," she said. "If I hadn't had the teachers and the experiences I had in high school, I doubt that I would be a journalist today." She recalls that the influence of her speech and writing teachers inspired her love for the subjects.
Greenburg's high school math teacher, Susan Jester says her former student was a thoughtful, kind person. "She was a good all-around student, she had humility, she didn't do things just to be in the limelight," Jester said. "I knew she would do well."
Although she developed a love of writing in high school, until she began college at the University of Alabama Greenburg had never considered a career in journalism. "I was really not sure what I wanted to do," she said.
Law was one of the first fields she considered, although other majors also sparked her interest, however temporarily.
"For a very brief four-day period, I considered engineering, which is laughable looking back now, because I'm not very strong in math. I even have trouble with percentages."
Hoping to gain writing experience, Greenburg entered the campus newspaper office "completely nervous and ready to beg for a story" during the spring semester of her freshman year, she recalls.
Greenburg doesn't recall much about her first article. "It was probably buried somewhere on page 12," she said. Although her first story may not have been very memorable, after writing a few more stories for The Crimson White, she discovered a passion for journalism.
"The things I learned at The Crimson White are things I still draw on today," she said. "Although stories get larger and may be higher profile stories, the basic skills, such as how to interview and how to write a news story, I learned at Alabama."
After graduating from college in 1987, Greenburg began her career in journalism as a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. She began covering the Supreme Court after graduating from the University of Chicago School of Law in 1994.
Greenburg began providing correspondence for television shows such as Nightline and the News Hour with Jim Leherer before becoming a legal correspondent for ABC News.
In network news, you have to distill your information to key points, but for the story to still come across in the transition," Greenburg said.
Although Greenburg has moved from the small town to covering the Supreme Court, she acknowledges that without her experiences at Brewer, things could have turned out differently.
"Who knows? I could have become an engineer," she said.

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