Popular culture is not easy to address in depth. This issue's cover story on Oprah Winfrey presented special challenges to LaTonya Taylor, our editorial resident. During a reporting trip to Nashville, Taylor arrived at the barbershop of Oprah's father, Vernon Winfrey, for an interview. But Taylor discovered that a barbershop can be a difficult place for serious conversation. So at Vernon Winfrey's suggestion, Taylor climbed into a barber chair, pitching questions as he labored over her eyebrows.

Taylor has been thinking about Oprah since the mid-1980s, when Oprah brought the Winans onto her show. Taylor is a big fan of the Winans' music. "I was 6 or 7 at the time, and Oprah was an amazing American Dream story." Taylor's parents didn't mind if she watched television since she was the ultimate bookworm. Her parents would say to her, "Please put the book down. Do something besides read." So she began to write. By the time Taylor graduated from college, she had written for a community weekly in Ohio, The Columbus Dispatch, and Taylor University's Echo newspaper and Growth magazine.

Taylor says she has maintained an intense interest in popular culture. As she began to look at it more critically, she remembered something that an elderly pastor told her. "He said when it comes to understanding pop culture, 'You need a knife, fork, and spoon.' A knife to cut it up, a spoon to set aside, and a fork for input. He said to me, 'Be relevant, but don't compromise.' "

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, many American Christians were surprised to see talk shows explore faith, forgiveness, and the teachings of Islam. But Oprah, drawing on her upbringing at Nashville's Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, did much more than that. ...

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