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A brief survey of literary journalism

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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."

Moving from journalist to playwright

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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."

A new collection of newspaper narratives

The Best American Newspaper Narratives cover

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."

Narrative journalism tips from Mayborn

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From Charles Scudder on Nieman Storyboard, a series of reports on this year's Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference: Caleb Hannan discusses his 2014 "Dr. V" story for Grantland; Dan Barry on how video can improve narrative journalism; Jeff Chang on writing about race in an era of social media; George Getschow on how great writers craft scenery; and four Pulitzer Prize winners talk about how the award affects their work.

Abbey's explorations in the Utah desert

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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."

Deep in the heart of gun country

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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."

Errol Morris reflects on his work

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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."

A new view of narrative construction

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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."

The power of little-told stories

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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."

How Harper Lee used time as a device

President George W. Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to author Harper Lee during a ceremony Monday, Nov. 5, 2007, in the East Room.

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."