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The Art of the Interview

ENGL 457.640
R 5:30-8:10

Workshop Description & Design:


 “The Art of the Interview” is an MLA graduate writing seminar focused on interviews: how to prepare for them, conduct them, and write them into narrative form—whether for a profile, article, story, essay, book, documentary, radio or television show.  The title of this course could also be called “The Art of Listening and Gathering Stories That Matter to You.” A great interview—revelatory for both interviewee and interviewer—opens doors and leads to unexpected answers. It also requires doing your homework—with research ahead of time, and observation and an alert presence in the moment. 


During the semester, we will read profiles, essays and articles from The New Yorker and elsewhere that incorporate research and information from interviews; Q & A interviews in the quintessential Paris Review, and narratives by masters of the craft, including Studs Terkel, Richard Preston, John McPhee, and Joseph Mitchell.We’ll also listen to

or watch excellent interviews conducted by Bill Moyers, Terry Gross, Crista Tibbett

and other gifted interviewers on television, radio or in podcasts.


We will examine effective (and ineffective) techniques and approaches to interviews—including direct and indirect questions, how to put your interviewee at ease, how to ask difficult questions, and how to keep the interview from becoming adversarial. You will have the opportunity to meet a number of people, including strangers, relatives, public figures, authorities, and/or peers--interviews that should generate powerful stories to strengthen our understanding of some aspect of the human condition. We will also focus on how to edit these interviews into various forms. We will explore the significance of good leads, detail, dialogue, description and accuracy in bringing the material to life.


I hope for each student to find new ways to generate ideas and to write with more comfort, fun and fluidity, from the inside out. I also want you to learn how to re-envision and revise your writing—what to keep, what to build upon, and what to let go. I will ask you to maintain a daily practice of free-writing; participate in peer review workshops and write reading responses. I will also ask you to decide on an area of interest and to conduct, transcribe and write up interviews that result in a short Q&A, a profile and a narrative essay or article that incorporates material from the interviews.


Throughout this process, you will gain insight into ways in which we create stories and build narratives in an effort to make sense of this complex progression of life and the experience of being human. We live at at a time in human history when we are discovering how our brains work, how our environment functions and how deeply we are interconnected with one another and all living things in this extraordinary web of life.