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Groundbreaking journalist in thick of political controversies

When Robin Pogrebin was a youngster she dreaded the Fire Island ferry and the inevitable rush to make the boat, knowing that missing it meant a long wait for the next one. When she visited Shelter Island for the first time in her twenties, on the continuously running, relaxation-inducing North Ferry, it was love at first ride.

She owes that ferry ride in 1989, and the magical summers that followed, to her husband, Edward Klaris, whose family has had a home here on Shelter Island since the ’70s.

The relaxation afforded by a retreat to the Island is a precious commodity for her these days. Robin is a reporter for the New York Times, and her recently published book, “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh,” written with Kate Kelly, is an investigation into the life of the newest Supreme Court justice. The book has subjected her to hatred from both ends of the political spectrum at a time when there is no middle ground – except perhaps on Shelter Island.

“I had heard that (Shelter Island) has a history of being more conservative, but I do find that I meet people of all kinds there,” she said. “It is welcoming to a wide variety of people, and I appreciate that about the place.”

The controversy surrounding “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh” has surprised and exasperated her, although she knew that the events of last year’s confirmation hearings were polarizing. “Our book is an attempt to look back at a chapter that many people experienced as unsettling and unfinished and try to make sense of things, flesh them out, follow some of the threads that were left dangling,” she said. “This is not a book with a political agenda. Ironically, we wondered if it would get any attention, since nuance does not tend to make headlines these days. People are pulling out aspects of our book and deploying them for their own political ends. I hope that when the caravan moves on, people will take the time to read the book and consider it with an open mind. So much of the toxic dialogue around our book comes from people who have not read it.”

In one way or another, she has been in journalism all her life. Her mother, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, is a writer and journalist best known as a founder of Ms. Magazine. Robin grew up in New York with a twin sister, Abigail, and a brother, David. Her father, Bert Pogrebin, is a labor lawyer. Educated at progressive private schools in New York, Robin attended Yale and went to work at The New York Times right after college.

She left the Times in ’89 to work at New York Observer for three years, reporting on a broad range of subjects, including city politics, the law, and the restaurant industry.

Robin then went to ABC News as an associate producer for the Peter Jennings documentary unit, doing hour-long specials on topics like Bosnia, Haiti and Christianity in America. In 1995, she returned to The New York Times. “My comfort was being a reporter with a pad in my hand. In television you are approaching the news with an entourage. Journalism by committee was less appealing to me,” she said.

When Robin was a freshman at Yale, she went on a vacation with her family to Martinique, where she met Edward Klaris, a high school senior and the brother of a friend whose family happened to be vacationing there at the same time. The attraction was mutual, but the timing wasn’t right. “We became friends who would keep in touch through letters, because people wrote letters in those days. He has famously said he came home and told a friend, that is the woman I’m going to marry.”

They found each other again six years later, and soon Robin found Shelter Island. “I didn’t know about it, and I think the Island still has a secret quality. I loved it right away and continue to find it very calming.” Edward and Robin married in 1993.

Their two children, now in their twenties, have spent summers on Shelter Island for their entire lives, often at their grandmother’s home, a multigenerational family base. Robin said, “No matter where they go in the rest of their lives, they always come back to Shelter Island. That has made the place a valuable through line in our lives.”

When Robin’s daughter was six years old, she developed Lyme meningitis from a tick bite and became seriously ill. The diagnosis took time, but she recovered once she was treated. “It’s the only downside to Shelter for me, worrying about ticks because of that experience,” Robin said. “Not that I needed a reminder of how precious life is or how valuable my children are, but that trauma left a very strong impression.”

The sailing program, environmental camp at Mashomack, and youth farm program at Sylvester Manor deepened the kids’ connection to the Island, and the ties have lasted into adulthood: “Their love for it has astounded me since they’ve grown older. Their affection for the place has only deepened.”

Robin enjoys biking and being on the water, but for the most part she’d rather be reading, and she leaves the recreational cooking to her husband. “He makes a wonderful linguini vongole and an amazing clam chowder. We used to host an annual chowder party, and people appreciated it because making that soup is a labor of love. There is something extra special in eating from the sea that is around you [and] making the clams you dig up from the sand into something that you share with other people.”

Robin said the Shelter Island she first encountered in 1989 is pretty close to the Shelter Island of today. She’s impressed with the way the same casual vibe is mixed with just a touch of “that Hamptons element.” She offered the example of the curving strip of sunset-blessed sand featuring both Sunset Beach and The Pridwin. “A few yards apart on the same beach you have two versions of Shelter Island: the former a hot spot with throbbing music, dressed-up crowds and fancy drinks, the latter a low-key, informal front porch that feels undiscovered.”

For Robin, who can partake of whatever glamour she wants a hundred miles west, the peace and beauty are enough. “I don’t need much to be happy. Being with my family on Shelter Island is a simple pleasure and feels sufficient. It’s one of life’s simple joys that I continue to keenly appreciate.”