Josh Roiland annotates the syllabus for his class, “Literary Journalism in America,” explaining why he has selected each of several dozen articles he assigns: "In many ways, the course is easy to teach because the stories are so compelling that everyone always completes the assigned readings and we have amazing conversations in class. I still get regular messages from former students as they discover new writers or works that remind them of something we read in class."
Twin sisters Margaret and Allison Engel used to write for newspapers. Now they're the authors of a successful play about the late Texas columnist Molly Ivins, starring Kathleen Turner among others, and are working on plays about Erma Bombeck and Damon Runyon, Laura Collins-Hughes writes: "Even as playwrights have borrowed techniques from journalism to create such work, journalists have recognized an opportunity to transfer their well-honed skills to a different medium."
Roy Peter Clark discusses a worthy heir to his old Best Newspaper Writing series, a book called The Best American Newspaper Narratives, edited by Mayborn conference director George Getschow, of whom Clark writes: "He places these contemporary narratives in a historical context, tracing the impulse for storytelling in journalism back to the 19th century in the work of Mark Twain, Lafcadio Hearn (whom every storyteller in journalism should read), and Stephen Crane."
Edward Abbey took a job at Arches National Monument in the late 1950s and a decade later produced Desert Solitaire, a meditation on the external and internal landscapes he examined that summer, Maria Popova writes: "Abbey’s writing is both a form of spiritual sustenance and a feat of conservation — for, being human and thus solipsistic, unless we appreciate the value of these experiences to our inner lives, we are rarely moved to honor their sacred value to all life."
Nieman Storyboard annotates Jeanne Marie Laskas's first-person story about a Yuma, Ariz., gun store and the people who work and shop there: "I really wanted to understand the other side. I really and truly did. I didn’t want to get into a debate about gun rights. It was a cultural question: What is your mindset that you really truly believe in what you believe? It was really hard to find a way of doing that that wasn’t judgmental, that wasn’t silly."
Alex Pappademas interviews the documentary filmmaker, who discusses the Interrotron, moments from The Thin Blue Line, Fog of War, and The Unknown Known, and how he began writing in his mid-50s: "I was called by the New York Times and I was asked to write op-ed pieces on photography … I had a hard time at first, and then much less of a hard time. I started writing quite a bit. I wanted to write a self-help book — From Writer’s Block to Graphomania in Two Easy Weeks."
The eight "story shapes" from Kurt Vonnegut's famous (rejected) University of Chicago master's thesis have been boiled down to six by Matthew Jockers, an English professor, Dan Piepenbring writes, but his take on stories has more to do with words and emotions than conflict and resolution: "By Jockers’s conception, even Waiting for Godot, which Vivian Mercier famously and favorably described as 'a play in which nothing happens, twice,' is positively brimming with plot."
Pulitzer-prize winner Diana Marcum talks to Nieman Storyboard and explains how she searched California's Central Valley for the stories of a devastating drought: "It takes a little bit of time. We hang out, we just sort of invite ourselves in, and we eat samosas with the Singh family, and say, 'Oh, can we look at your almond tree?' And we do a lot of listening, maybe to things that would never end up in the story. People really want to talk, you know. I mean we all do."
News that a sequel will be published prompts Roy Peter Clark to analyze the tense wait for the jury's verdict in To Kill A Mockingbird: "Just when it feels the waiting will go on forever the clerk says, '"This court will come to order," in a voice that rang with authority, and the heads below us jerked up.' The suspense that expands over six pages is dispelled by action that occurs in less than two, in storytelling that is among the most powerful in American history."