Course Descriptions


Winter 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.
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.
The "New Journalism" that began to appear in the 1960s was far from "new." Writers have long strived to craft nonfiction that adopts the aims, techniques and standards of the finest fiction. In this course students will study some of those writers, among them Stephen Crane, Jack London and George Orwell. Students will then look at how the early pioneers inspired and influenced later literary journalists such as John Hersey, Lillian Ross, A.J. Liebling, Joseph Mitchell, Truman Capote, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe and Michael Herr. At each stage, our central focus will be the evolution of ethics in literary journalism. Covenants with readers versus covenants with subjects; fundamental truth versus factual accuracy; the blurred lines between fiction and journalism; entering the minds of your characters; reconstructing past events; imposing meaning by seeing /stories/ in situations---literary journalists wrestle with these issues constantly. So will we in this course.
In narrative journalism, we often emphasize getting to the emotional core of the people we write about. But what about writing narratives that try to unravel the mysteries of emotions themselves? In this class, we will read about the science of behavior and the mind. We will consider stories about neurological disorders like schizophrenia, autism, Alzheimer’s, and perhaps some that you have never heard of like mass psychogenic illness (which led to a ticking outbreak among cheerleaders), or Morgellons Disease (which can be blamed for extreme itching), or body integrity disorder (in which a person might become obsessed with cutting off his arm). We will explore questions like what drives human behavior? Can emotions like shame or empathy be pinpointed to a particular part of the brain? What if memories can be planted? Or what if a sociopath is just born like that? How do these questions complicate the law? Such scientific discoveries could change the way journalists write crime narratives like In Cold Blood, particularly when we get into questions like: Does the brain dictate behavior? Is it our genes? Or can morality still be boiled down to the choices we make? Although we will be asking big universal questions that will help drive our narratives, we will still seek stories that address these topics through literary journalism, with characters, scenes and tension. Who are the people behind these disorders and discoveries—the scientists, patients, families, or defendants? Each student will be responsible for writing and reporting a science-inspired narrative as a final paper.
This workshop for Literary Journalism majors will explore the personal essay, its tradition and how it has developed into its current form. We know why the personal essay is popular and compelling: it takes the reader right into the mind of the writer, and ostensibly lets the writer discuss what matters most to him or her. But what makes a personal essay good and important? We'll talk about the function of narrative sweep in the personal essay, and how suspense and secrets are particularly important to this form. We will talk about the concept of "broadening out" -- that is, making our own story meaningful in a wider context. Our mantra in this class: "It's not just about you." Writers we'll read include, among others: Mark Twain, James Baldwin, Maxine Hong Kingston, M.F.K. Fisher, Lorrie Moore, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Wole Soyinka, Philip Roth, Susan Orlean. We will investigate how the personal essay can vary, allowing a writer to address personal experience and write with sensitivity about others. We'll use research, interviews and of course, the world outside us. "It's not just about you." We'll look at tone and point of view, and the varieties of first-person writing. One theme will be the conflict between the private self and the public act of writing. We will criticize each other's work constructively in this workshop, and try to figure out ways to resolve questions in our writing. Be advised: although we are writing personal essays, this workshop will not be a psychological group session. Students will write one or two short pieces for this class, and a final, longer article.
Legal Narratives is a class that explores how journalists mine the legal system, from murder trials to the civil system, for material with which to build stories. Readings will include a wide variety of newspaper and magazine stories which rely on courtroom access and/or legal documents, such as Anne Hull’s series “Metal to Bone” in the St. Petersburg Times and Pamela Colloff’s work in Texas Monthly. We will also read the book The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin. We will explore the choices that writers make in building their narratives, and how they reflect the writers’ preoccupations with larger themes, such as the nature of justice, its elusiveness, and the endless gray areas with which the law grapples. The cases under scrutiny often become windows into social and psychological questions, and we will explore how legal narratives—a subset of the “true crime” genre—reflect the zeitgeist.
Joan Didion famously wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” She was right. Humans are hard-wired for stories. In this class, we will read and analyze nonfiction narratives, paying attention to craft, while discussing the psychological and neurological aspects of storytelling. How we read them. How we report and write them. How these stories shape the world around us. We will talk about memory and psychological interviewing, the role of empathy in immersive storytelling, crafting scenes for emotional resonance and how these scenes are received and interpreted in the brain. We will think about how our minds organize information into narratives—deleting and recording details to fit the psychological form we inherently crave. We need to hear, read, watch, feel and tell true stories that matter. It is how we connect. But stories also divide us, and we are seeing this play out powerfully today in the news, in our communities, and in our social media feeds. Many are now asking: What is a true story, really? How do people decipher fiction from fact in this era of online propaganda and fake news? How is storytelling manipulated to skew truth? And how is narrative technique wielded to spread truth? We will also discuss topics like fake news, bias, moral outrage and social activism through narratives in twitter culture. We will think about how point of view, character selection, scene selection, and structure shape messages that spread through society. Readings will come from narrative nonfiction books, articles, and some scientific texts. There will be one midterm, a final paper, and regular writing assignments.
From the slums of Mumbai, to the gang neighborhoods of Watts; from the classrooms of South Central Los Angeles and the remote villages of the Amazon, to the war-torn streets of Iraq, journalists seek out places most people avoid, and they return to tell stories that shed light on important issues and serious social problems. The books we read follow the paths of these journalists who enter dangerous and unfamiliar areas, report at their peril and return to illuminate misunderstood parts of the world. As we shadow the writers on these journeys, we discuss how they were able to obtain access into these worlds, gain the trust of the residents, transcend stereotypes, and tell stories that were not simply dry recitations of facts, problems and solutions, but compelling narratives. We discuss poverty, discrimination, and inequality in this class. We also study the art of storytelling, including how to engage the reader, how to create a page-turning story arc, how to make characters come alive. We break down the books in order to understand the writers' styles and their approaches. This class will be helpful for those who are interested in becoming writers, as well as students who simply love good writing and good storytelling. Several of the writers we read will visit the class and discuss the dangers they faced, the risks they encountered and their research methods and writing techniques.
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.