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Literary Journalism

Summary:

These resources discuss some terms and techniques that are useful to the beginning and intermediate creative nonfiction writer, and to instructors who are teaching creative nonfiction at these levels. The distinction between beginning and intermediate writing is provided for both students and instructors, and numerous sources are listed for more information about creative nonfiction tools and how to use them. A sample assignment sheet is also provided for instructors.

Contributors:Kenny Tanemura
Last Edited: 2010-04-21 08:09:45

Literary journalism is another essay form that is best reserved for intermediate and advanced level courses, but it can be incorporated into introductory and composition courses. Literary journalism is the creative nonfiction form that comes closest to newspaper and magazine writing. It is fact-driven and requires research and, often, interviews.

Literary journalism is sometimes called “immersion journalism” because it requires a closer, more active relationship to the subject and to the people the literary journalist is exploring. Like journalistic writing, the literary journalism piece should be well-researched, focus on a brief period of time, and concentrate on what is happening outside of the writer’s small circle of personal experience and feelings.

An Example and Discussion of a Literary Journalism

The following excerpt from George Orwell is a good example of literary journalism. Orwell wrote about the colonial regime in Marrakech. His father was a colonial officer, so Orwell was confronted with the reality of empire from an early age, and that experience is reflected in his literary journalism piece, Marrakech:

It is only because of this that the starved countries of Asia and Africa are accepted as tourist resorts. No one would think of running cheap trips to the Distressed Areas. But where the human beings have brown skins their poverty is simply not noticed. What does Morocco mean to a Frenchman? An orange-grove or a job in Government service.

Orwell isn’t writing a reflective, personal essay about his travels through Marrakech. Neither is he writing a memoir about what it was like to be the son of a colonial officer, and how that experience shaped his adult life. He writes in a descriptive way about the Jewish quarters in Marrakech, about the invisibility of the “natives,” and about the way citizenship doesn’t ensure equality under a colonial regime.

Generating Ideas for Literary Journalism

One way to incorporate literary journalism into an introductory or intermediate level course is simply to have students write personal essays first. Then the students can go back and research the facts behind the personal experiences related in their essays. They can incorporate historical data, interviews, or broaden the range of their personal essay by exploring the cultural or political issues hinted at in their personal essays.

If a student writes, in passing, about the first presidential candidate they were eligible to vote for, then she can include facts and figures around that particular election, as well as research other events that were current at that time, for example. As with other essay forms, students should find topics that are important to them.

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