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Long-Form Journalistic Writing

ENGL 160.301
instructor(s):
Tuesday 1:30-4:30

This is a reading/writing course in the art and history of long-form narrative journalism, which to some might seem a lost art and term. And yet the long-form story still has its fervent adherents, and who is to say such a form—call it even a craving—for the full-bodied piece of narrative work won’t have a kind of renaissance as we further try to find our way in the mysteries of cyberspace and the digital age?

Students will study the roots and origins of what came to be thought of in the 1960s as “New Journalism.” So the works and lives of Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Hunter Thompson, John McPhee, Joan Didion, Michael Herr—to cite only seven esteemed practitioners—will be examined. But we will also study the lives and works of some descendants, or maybe inheritors, of those early writers, whose names you know far less well: Gary Smith, Tom Junod, Richard Ben Cramer, Janet Malcolm. Your professor himself is an “inheritor,” and as a matter of fact so are you. Which is only to say: If there will be a large emphasis on reading in the course, there will be an equally large emphasis on the practice of the form. Each student admitted to the class will produce his or her own long-form piece of journalistic prose, something in the neighborhood of twenty to twenty-five double-spaced pages, employing the various techniques of the novelist (scene, characterization, detail, telling moment, revelatory quotes) and yet at the same time remaining absolutely sacred to the responsibility of facts, as you are able to gather and find them.

This is not a course for the faint-hearted. Any long-form piece of distinctive journalistic work is first and foremost about the reporting. The reporting, the reporting, the reporting. You’ll have to find your subject, and go after it. And then it’s about the writing, the writing, the writing, which is the even sweatier act. Joan Didion, one of the finest and sparest of the long-form journalists we will read, once said: “I don’t write well; I revise well.”  The professor has this goofy notion it should be a lot of fun. 

Please at your early convenience send one or two recent samples of your non-fiction prose, so that the professor can get an advance look at your work. Send to Paul Hendrickson at:  phendric@english.upenn.edu.