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By Fatima Foster
When the planes struck the Twin Towers in New York City on a beautiful sunny day in September 2001, many lives were lost, and many families’ futures became cloudy. Those who perished left behind children really too young to lose a parent.
Now, 12 years later, through a new book compiled by J/MS Professors Ronald Miskoff and Liz Fuerst, some of the children of New Jersey 9/11 victims and the parent of one victim share their stories of the day that changed their lives forever.
The electronic formatted book, entitled 9/11 Stories: The Children, is a work Miskoff calls a “follow-up story” to what may be the greatest and most heartbreaking story of the Millennium—9/11.
The book is an outgrowth of the 9/11 Project course that J/MS offered in spring 2011.
The class came about when Miskoff and Executive Director George White of the New Jersey Press Association had an idea to run a course where a group of journalism majors would interview the children of New Jersey 9/11 victims.
These interviews would then become the basis for press coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 offered to New Jersey daily and weekly newspapers during late August and early September 2011.
The NJPA and its charitable arm, the New Jersey Press Foundation, gave J/MS a grant of almost $60,000 to run the course. Miskoff designed the course to teach the tenets of narrative journalism and had the hand-picked majors read masters such as Tom Wolfe and Buzz Bissinger. There were guest lecturers who had written books about 9/11, including Gov. Tom Kean, co-chair of the 9/11 Commission.
Fuerst was brought in as a writing coach. She did a lot of the arranging for the project and quickly learned the difficulty of the task.
“Many people did not want to talk to us,” she recalled. “I reached out to every contact I had. I would bring in a family and have two or three phone conversations to arrange interviews and by the fourth one they would say ‘I don’t want to do it,’” said Fuerst.
However, once lining up children, the professors matched them with the students in the class, who not only interviewed them for print but shot video and took still photographs. As expected, instant connections were made between the two because of similar interests and closeness in age, Miskoff noted.
The original idea of the NJPA was to have a book-on-paper written at the end of the course. However, as Miskoff explained, the project turned out to be too costly.
With inspiration from Jennifer A. Borg, Esquire, vice president and general counsel of North Jersey Media Group and former president of the New Jersey Press Foundation, the professors began to explore the idea of an electronic book.
The book, available now on iTunes for $1.99 and soon to be available as an ebook, contains all the stories of the children, along with 20 two-minute videos and lots of photographs.
“This story had everything—it had horrific murder, it had bewildered children, it had terror from the skies, it had high drama, it had legions of widows, it had mystery, it had greed, it had religion, it had the battle of technology and traditionalism, globalization and fundamentalism, it was a whodunit, it had politics,” noted Miskoff.
Through the stories and video content, he added, readers’ hearts will ache for the children who had lost parental love so young.
Fuerst’s account about working on the book proves the despair in the stories.
“I edited all the stories, and I cried more than a few times,” she said. “I actually remember my tears falling onto someone’s paper,” she said.
Added Miskoff, “Readers will see how the emotion of growing up without a mom or dad, combined with the constant reminder in the media of that terrible day, has had a severe and marked effect on many of the children.”
All proceeds from the book go to a 9/11 educational foundation.