We’ll be reading and workshopping some of our most adventurous, pioneering nonfiction reporter/writers. At the same time, we’ll also shepherding semester-long projects that are due during exam period. The so-called “New Journalists” have thrived ever since the iconoclastic 1960s—the era when the craft was first developed and practiced. The term itself is very imprecise—the “New Journalists” were fiercely independent of each other, employing a wide range of reportorial and stylistic techniques not previously seen in American nonfiction—and their styles differ. But they’ve shared one fundamental trait. In the words of Marc Weingarten, who authored a book about the original New Journalists (The Gang that Wouldn’t Write Straight), they’ve all aspired to practice “journalism that reads like fiction” yet “rings with the truth of reported fact.”
We’ll closely parse some of their work, not because they are products of long-distant eras, but precisely because their novelistic techniques—narrative storytelling, dramatic arcs and scenes, structural cliffhangers, shifting points of view, author’s voice, dialogue as action—are routinely employed by the best long-form journalists today. Indeed, many contemporary journalists take these techniques for granted, perhaps unaware of their origins.
But this is not just a reading course. The ultimate goal is for each student to take the best of these techniques and use them in the reporting and writing of a long-form nonfiction piece that is due at the semester’s end. Each student will nurture one project from January to early May. And during the semester, we will schedule the time to workshop these works in progress—with class feedback and feedback from the instructor, functioning as an editor would.