Behind the Scenes: Chance reunion between old chums

Former deputy editor Craig Lambert reflects on his history with Stephen Bergman and what it’s like to reunite after 39 years.


Writing my March-April feature profile “Diagnosis by Fiction,” on novelist Stephen Bergman ’66, M.D. ’73, was an enjoyable adventure that involved an unusual type of reunion. I have actually known Steve for about 40 years but hadn’t seen or spoken with him for 39 of them.

As fellow writers, Steve and I met in the early 1980s through PEN New England (now Pen America Boston), the regional branch of the national organization that advocates for free speech and expression and for writers’ interests in various political and institutional contexts. At that time, he was already an internationally bestselling author of fiction. His first novel, The House of God (1978), had already become nearly required reading among the healthcare community and been translated into many languages. My profile narrates how literary celebrity took Steve by surprise and changed his life forever.

At those PEN New England meetings, he took a leadership role, while I was just getting started as an impecunious magazine journalist, learning a new craft after several years as a social scientist/researcher. I was figuring out how to transform my writing from the kind I published in the New England Journal of Medicine to what I was starting to place in Sports Illustrated, for example. For his part, Steve was plumbing the question of how to keep writing more novels while holding down a “day job” as a psychiatrist—another topic my story explores.

When, a few months ago, Harvard Magazine editor John Rosenberg asked if I would be interested in writing a profile of Bergman, he had no idea that the assignment would reunite me with an old chum.

So Steve and I met up at his residence in Newton, a home he and his wife, Janet, had owned since the mid 1980s but which I had never seen. We did our two interviews in the capacious carriage house behind the main residence, a structure so roomy that Steve and Janet had lived there for years while renting out the main house to tenants. Steve’s office in the carriage house is the place where Stu Rosner later shot the photos that appear in the magazine.

I brought my dog Thalia along to supervise the interviews. Steve and I needed little time to get re-acquainted. To me, journalistic interviews are simply a certain kind of conversation. I try to foster a back-and-forth with my subject in which I not only ask questions but contribute new things that can lead the dialogue in productive directions. I guess it should come as no surprise that as two Harvard-educated writers, Steve and I are both fairly verbal souls, so let’s just say that our hours weren’t marked by many, if any, occasions of radio silence.

Steve and I are both pleased with how the story turned out, including the excellent photos by Stu and an engaging layout by art director Jennifer Carling. Having reconnected after a few decades, I suspect that we’ll also reactivate a friendship that had lain fallow for all those years.

Craig Lambert was the former deputy editor of Harvard Magazine.


Watch a video below where Craig explains his writing process: 



Read “Diagnosis by Fiction