“Tell me a story.”
This was what Don Hewitt, the fabled creator and executive producer of 60 Minutes said when he got a story pitch for the show. His devotion to narrative storytelling is what made 60 Minutes perhaps the first and most popular television magazine show fusing journalism and show business.
This same phrase was heard over and over at The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference sponsored by the University of North Texas last month http:journalism.unt.edu/maybornconference.
The old autobiographies of yesterday are called memoirs today and they focus on narrative writing…think Angela’s Ashes, The Devil’s Highway and The Man Who Quit Money.
Two of those authors, Luis Alberto Urrea and Mark Sundeen, were speakers at the 2012 Mayborn Conference. Urrea, a best-selling author of 14 books including The Hummingbird’s Daughter, tells the story of his grandmother and other Mexican immigrants; Sundeen wrote about a friend of his who literally quit money and started living on the edge of society eating from garbage dumps, living in a sandstone cave.
Short or long, non-fiction narratives blend the skills of journalism and the techniques of fiction, said Richard Rhodes, another Mayborn 2012 speaker who wrote The Making of the Atomic Bomb, which won a Pulitzer among other prizes.
Imagine a day with speakers such as
~Amy Harmon, a national correspondent for the NYT, who wrote about the clinical trial Target Cancer receiving the annual journalism award given by the National Academics of Science in 2011
~Tom Junod, writer at large for Esquire, who has written some of the most controversial and enduring profiles of Steve Jobs and Roger Ailes
~Jeanne Marie Laskas, the author of five nonfiction books including the award-winning trilogy of memoirs Growing Girls, The Exact Same Moon and Fifty Acres and a Poodle. Her newest book Hidden America coming soon is about the “unseen people who make this country work”…from coal miners to cowboys.
And I haven’t even mentioned the photo journalists and film makers who showed their work illustrating over and over how critical photos are to a story; the story is to each movie and video.
Students were there, too, receiving cash awards for narrative writing from blue chip organizations like the Dallas Morning News, the Bush Library and Big Thought, a more obscure but thriving Dallas organization developed through public schools to stress the importance of writing.
Did I mention the Book Store? It is set up in the hotel– a sales exhibition of the books by all the conference speakers and this year I bought a gem by Roy Peter Clark, often called the most influential writing coach in American journalism. I bought Writing Tools : 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer for my daughter Robin Barr Sussman, a travel, food & wine freelancer, but shhhh I’m reading it first. Clark helps us to see that any person, at any stage, can become a better writer. There are born writers in this world; the rest of us work at it. ##