Feature Writing

“You have to go to considerable trouble to live differently from the way the world wants you to live. That’s what I’ve discovered about writing. The world doesn’t want you to do a damn thing. If you wait unit you got time to write a novel, or time to write a story, or time to read the hundred thousands of books you should have already read—if you wait for the time, you will never do it. Cause there ain’t no time; world don't want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week.”

—Harry Crews

“We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings. Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull,

and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.”

—John Updike 

“Writers are always selling somebody out.”

—Joan Didion

This class will focus on the art and craft of writing publishable, long-form narrative nonfiction—that is, magazine-length stories that are both true and deftly written using elements we might typically ascribe to fiction: character development, narrative arc, scene. You might think of the stories found in Harper’s, for example, or The New York Times, The Atlantic, New Republic, Esquire, GQ, ESPN, even Buzzfeed. We’ll place specific emphasis on stories that examine people and place, and our course schedule will mirror that of a professional writer’s—that is, we’ll discuss each stage of the writing process as it unfolds: first the act and art in finding a story, then techniques for interviewing and conducting research, and then, finally, ways in which we can write and edit raw material into a polished piece of prose. We’ll also consider the importance of setting a personal narrative—that is, one subject’s story—against a larger context, whether cultural, political, or national. We’ll read magazine features by both canonical and emerging literary journalists, including Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace, Susan Orlean, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Leslie Jamison, Jennifer Percy, Kerry Howley, Gay Talese, Brendan Isaac Jones, Blair Braverman, Robert Langellier, Jacob Knapp, Inara Verzemnieks, Kiese Laymon, Werner Herzog, and N.R. Kleinfield. Because so much of this course will depend upon your willingness to read and write independently and complete multiple drafts, carrying each of our two assigned stories through multiple rounds of revision, students should prepare to be pushed outside of their general comfort zone in an attempt to find and write stories beyond the ordinary and familiar. To supplement our ongoing writing and classroom workshops, students will be assigned ample weekly readings that ensure they understand the difference between a good and bad piece of literary journalism and why, precisely, this matters so much.

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