Fall 2006

HUMS 624
Literary Journalism


09/11/2006 - 12/16/2006
Tuesday 06:00 PM - 09:00 PM

Fisk Hall 115

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 appeal of the story results from the way that words are used--the way people and 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 own creativity--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 stylistic possibilities. Some of the major historical figures are James Boswell, Theophile Gautier, Edmund Gosse, Robert Graves, Harold Nicolson, and George Orwell. The New Yorker magazine virtually reinvented the genre in America, and we'll read some of The New Yorker's major nonfiction writers, such as Truman Capote, Joseph Mitchell, and John McPhee.

A frequent question that arises concerns the relation between fact and truth. We'll talk about where factuality is and isn't important, and the distinction between being meticulously factual and 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 student writer will have made a giant stride toward storytelling that is not only informative but also deeply entertaining.

A syllabus for this course is available at:

Dan Hofstadter (BA Columbia University) is author of Falling Palace: A Romance of Naples (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005); The Love Affair as a Work of Art (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996); Goldberg's Angel (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1995), Temperaments (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), and essay The New Yorker, The Smithsonian, as well as many articles and essays in The New Yorker, The Smithsonian, and the New York Times. He teaches writing at Bennington College.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:

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