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Literary Journalism and the Masters of Non-Fiction

"Masters of Nonfiction" represents my conceptual approach to marrying literary values with the pursuit and creation of new knowledge, especially knowledge arising at the intersection of science, engineering and the humanities. The aim is to nourish the creation of serious and durable non-fiction based on the author's knowledge and expertise, style (voice) and craft (technique), in roughly equal measures. The "masters of nonfiction" framework focus on strengthening the writer's capacity to engage wider audiences and non-specialist readers through vernacular writing of literary quality about urgent, complex socio-technical subjects. Writing activities will be supported by directed readings of masters in literary nonfiction and throughemulationof master practices that nourish and sustain excellence in writing, scholarship and publishing. My premise is that the connection between reading and writing is strong. What you read influences how you write, and how you write shapes your choices of what to read.
In both teaching and writing literary non-fiction, I rely on two techniques, emulation and mastery of time, or chronology. The ability to write a coherent narrative can be learned, or improved upon, by closely reading some of the great masters: Orwell, Carson, Mencken, Crane, Hersey, Krakauer, Talese, Ehrenreich, Didion, Thurston, Haley (to name on some of the many writers worthy of emulation). Chronological time can be an engine for literary narrative, and the mastery of chronology begins with documentation: time-coded notes, and establishing what characters do in parallel time. The canonical text of Genesis teaches the value of time-coding, and in classic essays, such as George Orwell's "A Hanging," time propels the narrative and imposes constraints on characters that shape their actions and their sense of signficance. The final aspect of literarty non-fiction that I stress is voice. Strong insistent original and even raw voices are desired by readers today even in the non-fiction they read. While voice is not the lone value borrowed from fiction writing, voice is perhaps the most essential in elevating non-fiction writing from the realm of information to the arena of literature and poetic sensibility.