Course Descriptions


Spring Quarter

Dept Course No and Title Instructor
Reading of selected texts to explore the ways in which literary journalism and related nonfiction modes formulate experience. Students write several short papers and one final project. The required prerequisite for either section of LJ 20 is satisfactory completion of the lower-division writing requirement.
To write convincingly and tell powerful stories that resonate, writers need to be meticulous, thorough reporters. LJ21 teaches students how to report their literary journalism articles accurately and thoroughly, focusing on the three basic means of gathering information for a story: interviewing, observing and reading. Early in the quarter, students will select a topic, or beat, as it is known in news parlance, from which they will develop contacts and story leads. Students will cover an event, conduct an interview and generate articles related to their beats, also learning ways to use Internet resources and databases to find facts and information and examining investigative and legal documents. The required prerequisite for either section of LJ 21 is satisfactory completion of the lower-division writing requirement.
Advanced Reporting asks students to complete a series of writing and multimedia assignments that require proficiency in varied reporting strategies such as interview, observation and research. Assignments will include profile, photo story, social problem/community reporting, and a final group digital project on a subject of our choosing. Guest speakers will offer insight into professional paths.
A man jumps from a Manhattan skyscraper and nosedives to his death, a fire ravages a college dorm in the middle of the night, a little girl is murdered by an internet predator, a band of terrorists take an elementary school full of children hostage. For each event, headlines around the world captured the breaking news. But the stories were not over. Weeks after the stories broke, the most compelling details had yet to be reported. Some of the best literary journalists find gripping stories by going back to the scene and interviewing sources weeks, months or even years after the news broke. In this class we will learn to search newspapers and blogs for story ideas that the daily media may have missed and we will learn to go back after a story has become ?old news,? after the daily reporters have left. We will study how literary journalists reconstruct events after they have occurred, and we will read writers like Tom Junod, Robin Gaby Fisher and other reporters who found unique angles on widely reported events.We will also learn to pay attention to news nuggets that are often ignored or quickly dismissed. Students will learn to find story ideas in news briefs, blurbs or items that received only a passing mention on the evening news, keeping in mind that these can often lead to the most riveting profiles and narratives. In this class, students will be expected to work on their narrative writing skills and interviewing techniques, and they will be required to find, pitch, report, and write their own stories off the news.
Narrative writing provides the foundation for much of what we call literary journalism. Writers in this field want to tell stories. They want to bring to nonfiction the sense of inner life usually found only in novels. How to write nonfiction prose that adopts the aims and techniques of the finest fiction? How to tell tales that read as if they were nonfiction short stories? These will be the central questions students in this class face. Students will look to nonfiction writers such as Gay Talese, Joan Didion and Michael Paterniti. Students will also do a good deal of their own narrative writing. This course is an advanced writing workshop: Students will regularly share their work with classmates in a constructive process of peer-review, then revise based on that feedback. By the end of the quarter, students will have produced a vignette, a character sketch and a major example of narrative writing.
The immigrant/migrant story is one of the defining experiences of modern California. In the 20th and 21st centuries, immigrants from Latin America, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, and African American migrants from the U.S. South, and people from many other places, shaped the metropolis we know today. In this class, we will seek to create narrative art from these stories. Our goal will be to create works of literary nonfiction that convey the emotional, poetic, sociological and historical weight of the immigrant/migrant story in the Southern California metropolis. How do we tell these very dramatic tales while avoiding melodrama and cliché? What interviewing and reporting techniques should we use when our subjects have painful truths to share with us? How do we create vivid and textured descriptions of places that are far away in place and time? How far can we go in employing multiple languages and “code switching” in our writing? We will read from works of nonfiction and fiction that have told stories of people who have taken to the road, and crossed borders, seeking to reinvent and rescue themselves. Students will venture into a community, find and interview subjects, and write a series of shorter stories or one longer piece.
True crime, at its best, it not just about cops and killers, but can tell us much about the world in which we live. While the crimes may animate the narratives – which make for gripping reading – the best books transcend the genre by giving readers a strong sense of place,an insight into the criminal mind, a window into the cops’ world, a feel for the agony of the victims, and the impact on the community. Every crime contains three major players that provide the cornerstone for compelling character studies: a perpetrator, a victim, and an investigator. In this class we will discuss the ethnical challenges true crime writers encounter, the difficulties they face during the reporting, and the decisions they make during the writing. We will explore the psychology of criminals; the effect their behavior has on society, the legal world and the criminal justice system; and the social implications of their crimes. Homicide detectives, former prison inmates, and true crime writers will visit the class, give presentations and answer questions. Some writers whose works we will read include David Grann, Norman Mailer, and John Berendt.
In this class, we will read deeply reported and researched public health narratives around science, psychology, social issues and medicine written by journalists. Although these nonfiction stories will often draw from scientific and medical studies or complicated diagnoses, they will mostly be stories about people first: patients, families, nurses, physicians, scientists, mental health workers, and sometimes also the journalists behind these stories. We will discuss how writers untangle complex medical subjects to present them as compelling narratives. How does a journalist interview for details that capture the humanity of a public health story? How does a journalist report for pivotal moments that evoke empathy? How does a medical question become a narrative mystery? How do writers preserve the narrative voice when translating medical terminology? What ethical complications arise when writing about the ill, the dying, the disenfranchised or the hospitalized? In this class, we will explore public health topics in longform magazine articles, podcasts and books, examining issues like cross-cultural health care and crises, trauma, immigration, motherhood, capital punishment, prison reform, body issues, violence, mental health, DNA testing, and the psychology and neuroscience of racism and prejudice. There will be a series of shorter writing assignments and one final writing project, all drawing from lessons in listening, interviewing, research and writing.