HUMS 624
Literary Journalism

Dan Hofstadter       

Course Description
The difference between hard journalism and literary journalism is largely a matter of texture. Straight reporters work against deadlines, offering information of public importance that must appear in concise form and at short notice. To undertake a piece of literary journalism, however, often means writing about something that has little significance until the writer draws attention to it. Usually he or she has a flexible deadline, and most of the story's appeal results from the way words are used ­ how people,
incidents, and atmospheres are captured. In this sense, literary journalism is a form of what has come to be called "creative nonfiction." The topic isn't necessarily very arresting until you, the writer, make it count, with your style, your perceptions, your structural insights.

The idea here ­ the idea we'll be playing with ­ is to write essays, profiles, chronicles, and yarns about one's own neighborhood, acquaintances, job, experiences, always looking for poetry and humor in the unexplored. Finding a style ­ which comes from finding something you desperately want to talk about ­ will be our chief goal.

Every student will try to settle on a substantial project, though writing a number of short pieces is also acceptable. Concurrently, we'll also have a look at the development of literary journalism, which should help to suggest aesthetic possibilities. Some of the major historical figures are James Boswell, Theophile Gautier, Edmund Gosse, Robert Graves, Harold Nicolson, and George Orwell. The New Yorker virtually reinvented the genre in America, and we'll read some of the magazine's major nonfiction writers, such as Truman Capote, Joseph Mitchell, and John McPhee.

A frequently asked question concerns the relation between fact and truth. We'll talk about when factuality is and isn't important, and the distinction between being meticulously factual and simply being responsible. We'll also discuss the different kinds of acceptable narrators, from the self-abnegating, unseen chronicler to the "stylized" narrator (who is giving you only one aspect of him- or herself) to the prankster who is clearly pulling the reader's leg. The expectation is that by the course's end the

participants will have made a giant stride toward storytelling that is not only informative but deeply entertaining.
Course Aim
The aim of the course is to find out what you love to write about and how to do it enjoyably, in a fluent personal style. Part of this is knowing how to criticize yourself and others, constructively. Everyone is expected to talk in class about the work under discussion. Please do not bring in pieces that have been previously workshopped elsewhere -- all writing should be done in
response to this course. You are encouraged, however, to start working on a long piece that may take several weeks to finish. We are also trying to ward off self-defeating habits, such as the production of unfinished material and piecemeal composition (whereby stories are assembled without following an organic outline or time-line).
 
All pieces should be double-spaced, printed in Courrier or Times New Roman, 12-point, stapled, and bear the student's name and due date on the front page.
Evaluations
Students will be evaluated in accordance with several explicitly-noted criteria: quality of work, regularity of work submission, artistic growth relative to previous experience and effort, class participation, critical commentary on fellow students' writing, and of course attendance. All professional writers rewrite their work, usually three times or more, so a willingness to rewrite promising pieces will also be taken heavily into account. All assignments must be handed in: if you need to miss a class,
please contact me in advance.
Assignments
The course runs for twelve three-hour sessions. We'll have short breaks, at 7:00 pm and  at 8:00 pm. You are welcome to bring drinks to class but do not bring food, please.

All essays must be e-mailed to the instructor by Friday midnight. He will then e-mail them to you in a group e-mail and you will each print out a set of eighteen. You will consequently come to class having (ideally) read everybody else's submission for the week. PLEASE NOTE THAT FOR THE VERY FIRST CLASS YOU SHOULD COME WITH 18 PHOTOCOPIES OF YOUR FIRST PIECE, THE EXERCISE EXPLAINED BELOW, AND BE PREPARED TO READ ALOUD FROM IT.

Course Schedule
Week:
 
1. Loosening-up exercise due: Write a 750-word description of something you experienced AS A CHILD, through the eyes of a child. Try to avoid using the words "I" or "me." Put your piece in a drawer for at least one day (this advice will hold throughout the course). Then rewrite it. Revise, copy-edit, and proof-read. Assignment to be photocopied by you, handed around, and
discussed by the class (e.g., "work shopped").
FROM THIS POINT ON THE EXERCISES ARE ONLY SUGGESTED, NOT MANDATORY. THEY
SHOULD BE E-MAILED TO THE INSTRUCTOR, WHO WILL FORWARD THEM (see above).
 
2. Assignment due: describe the very same experience from your present standpoint AS AN ADULT. Enlisting all your current awareness, try nonetheless to retain the directness and sensuousness of the child's vision. 750 words. Assignment to be work shopped.

3. Assignment due: MEMORY EXERCISE. Talk to somebody at length -- a completely informal interview. Try to memorize what they say, and to observe their tricks of speech (a tiny spiral pad for occasional note-taking is permitted.) Then stitch their remarks into one long monologue, of 500-750 words. Humor can help here: your aim is to vivify the person selected. Make

him or her come alive. Results are discussed in class, as usual.

4. Assignment due: A PROFILE of anyone you know or have known, except (1) your mom, (2) any other class member, (3) anyone else who studies or works at Wesleyan.

5. Assignment due: a social situation created primarily through DIALOGUE (not involving the writer). Humor can help here.

5.-10. Students will pursue projects of their own choosing.

11.-12. Students to read aloud from their work (reading affords great practice in creating natural prose, especially dialogue). Class party on final evening.
Reading Assignments
There will be some handouts (photocopied) and possible assignments from reserve library books as we go along, depending on the chief direction shown by the class.
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