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Consider people of all ages, those you know well and those you would like to know. Think about the people who intrigue you. Maybe they have fascinating jobs or interesting life stories or cool talents or hobbies. They may play a key role in your community. Perhaps they have had difficult experiences or overcome obstacles. Perhaps they have fascinating social media presences, like the woman in the photo above. Or, maybe you don’t know much about them – you’re just curious.

We’re asking you these questions to prepare for our January profile contest, and we hope you’ll use it as a place for public brainstorming, so everyone can be inspired by your ideas.

To help you, you can read this Times Insider article, “In one person, the story of a place”, which describes Saturday’s Profile column. Since 2002, the chronicle has “searched for the universal in characters around the world”.

This is how the play begins:

A Holocaust survivor who plays music for his neighborhood; a farm poet in China became an international literary celebrity; a guy who roams the earth with his donkey, Judas.

Local personalities from around the world fill Saturday’s Profile feature, which incorporates colorful characters into The New York Times’ broader international coverage. The profiles capture people from all walks of life in the countries the Times reporters are reporting on.

“They don’t have to be famous people,” said Kyle Crichton, the column’s editor. “They just have to be interesting.”

Mr. Crichton, associate international editor in the London bureau of The Times, took over the column shortly after its inception in 2002 and has since made it the staple weekly that it is today.

“The driving idea was to highlight people you may never really see in major news cycles,” Mr. Crichton said. “It takes you to a corner of the world you really didn’t know existed and it illuminates it.”

More than 700 people were cataloged in Saturday’s profile lineup, and writers and editors stationed all over the world contributed.

The Times correspondent in Brussels, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, usually covers the European Union. But recently, she wrote a Saturday profile about her neighbor, Simon Gronowski, who survived the Holocaust by hiding in attics for 17 months. In April, when Brussels locked down against the first wave of the coronavirus, Mr Gronowski was moved by memories of playing the piano outside his window.

“My garden and his garden face each other, so I had never met him, I had never seen him in the neighborhood,” Ms Stevis-Gridneff said. “And then, of course, we were locked up, so we didn’t really see anyone around anyway.”

And while the profiles weren’t her usual shape, as the pieces fell into place, she was pleasantly surprised.

“Genres that require more vocals are often a little intimidating for people like me who are used to doing different types of writing,” Ms. Stevis-Gridneff said. “But I like that freedom – that kind of voice, the humanity. It was also very different from the very dark, incredibly densely reported work that I had done on Covid.

Once his interview with Mr. Gronowski was translated from French to English, it only took two days to write the draft.

“It was one of the easiest songs I’ve written in my life,” Ms. Stevis-Gridneff said. “It came very naturally – his story arc was clear, his personality was so alive.”

The reception in her multinational neighborhood, she said, was also surprisingly delightful.

“I got emails from neighbors I didn’t know who friends in the US or UK had sent our story to,” Ms Stevis-Gridneff said. “I heard from a Belgian, a Dutch woman and a Dane who live in my neighborhood.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Who in your community would you like to interview? Our questions at the top of this article may have brought a person to mind right away, or you may have a list of several people. Tell us about them. (Please note: for this competition, you are not allowed to interview your relatives, but you can suggest other students to interview them.)

  • If you need even more questions to help you out, we’ve also created a special PDF full of additional prompts.

  • Then choose a person from your list. Why do you want to interview this person? What would you like to discover? What questions would you ask to do this?

  • Scroll down the Saturday Profile column. Which people seem particularly intriguing? Do any of them spark additional ideas for a local person you might interview?

  • Our profile contest and Saturday’s profile have the same goal: to feature interesting people who aren’t famous, but to give “an insight into distinct communities around the world.” As the editor who has run the column for nearly 20 years explains, “It takes you to a corner of the world you really didn’t know existed and it illuminates it.” What small community or “corner of the world” could your profile “illuminate”? What do you hope readers will understand about this person and where does he live?


Want more write prompts? You can find all of our questions in our Student Opinion column. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can integrate them into your classroom.

Students aged 13 and over in the US and Britain, and 16 and over elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by Learning Network staff, but remember that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.