Introduction to Literary Journalism / LJ 20

Introduction to Literary Journalism / Course Syllabus / Fall 2015 / 1

Introduction to Literary Journalism / LJ 20

Joseph Modugno

Department of English

Course: LJ 20 Section 29822

Class Meetings: M W 2:00-3:20pm

Location: Humanities Hall (HH) 230

Office hours: M/W 3:30pm MKH or Starbucks (by appointment please)

UCI Lit-J website:

Course Overview

This course serves as an introduction to the literary journalism major. Literary journalism is nonfiction prose that transcends the limits of daily news. While reporting is always challenging, by “literary journalism” we mean a kind of writing that goes beyond “who, what, where and when” to give the reader a richer and more detailed picture of life events. It combines an immersive approach to reporting with the techniques of fiction. Although this type of writing has older roots, it became an identifiable genre in the 1960s when Tom Wolfe dubbed it “New Journalism.” New Journalists such as Wolfe, Joan Didion, John McPhee, and Gay Talese were trailblazers in the field. Today, literary journalism appears in periodicals such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire and Harper’s Magazine, as well as in the magazines or literary supplements of many major newspapers.

The Literary Journalism major is designed for students interested in studying and contributing to this distinct branch of nonfiction writing. The class has two objectives: First, it will introduce you to and help you understand great examples of literary journalism. This will be the reading component of the class. Second, the class will serve as an introduction to the basic techniques for reporting and crafting such journalism. In other words, writing literary journalism. Through working to understand the mechanics of a good story—something we will do through constant, careful reading of literary journalism texts—we will come to appreciate how these worlds have been constructed and how they have been linguistically built.

At the end of our ten weeks together, our hope is that you will be a more engaged, passionate, and skilled reader. This is the way we will grow into serious writers. Lucky for us, there is a simple formula for the beginning writer, which we will follow: read (a lot), practice (a lot), and don’t give up. And because I trust you, I’m going to give you the secret formula that our most accomplished writers follow: they read (a lot), they practice (a lot), and they haven’t given up. In short, reading and writing is the heart of a writer’s world and will be the heart of our class.

I also hope that we’re going to have fun along the way. As your teacher, I’m here to help you grow as a reader and develop as a writer. At times you’ll be frustrated. By design you’ll have to work hard each week. Consider this, though—American writer Steven Pressfield once wrote, “The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”

That is what we are here to do, and that is what we are going to do this quarter. So let’s begin.

Required Texts

· Literary Journalism, edited by Norman Sims and Mark Kramer

· Intimate Journalism, edited by Walt Harrington

Other Materials

· Canvas Online Learning System: You will turn in all of your written work on Canvas. Written work will include drafts of articles, reading response papers, and peer reviews. Please keep an electronic file of your written work on your computer as a backup, as well.

· A small writer’s notebook. You use this for your reporting notes and perhaps for some in-class writing assignments.

· Voice Recorder: While a voice recorder isn’t required, it may be helpful for your interviews. Most smart phones have a recorder app.


Assignments should be typed in Times New Roman 12pt. font, double-spaced, stapled, & paginated

Article Analysis (The Essay): 3-5 pages.25%

Percentage breakdown:10% Rough Draft; 15% Final Draft

Your first major assignment will be to find a work of literary journalism published within the past five years. This article cannot be one of the articles assigned in this class or from the LJ program’s journal Kiosk.  You will then write a short essay, closely analyzing a scene of roughly one page. Questions you might consider include:

· How does the author introduce the scene? 

· Does the scene contribute to the building of suspense? 

· Does it introduce crucial information in an artful manner?  How?

· How does this scene contribute to the development of character in the story as a whole?

· What stylistic techniques does the author use? 

· Does the author vary his or her sentence structure?  Why? 

· What kind of details does the author foreground?   Why? 

· What elements of craft are at work in this scene and to what purpose or effect do they work?

You must form a thesis about why you think the author has chosen to execute the scene this way. How do the author’s choices for the scene further his or her goals for the piece?

Your goal is to produce a readable and persuasive analytic essay.  You should do as much sentence-level close reading and critical analysis as possible, focused on the author’s craft in writing this scene.  Remember that you must be able to support your claims with textual evidence from the article. You may be asked to attach a photocopy of the article to your essay.

Final Article (The Profile): 8-10 pages.45%

Assignments and Percentage Breakdown:

· Preliminary Scene (10%)

· Major Article Draft I (15%)

· Revised Major Article (Final Draft II) (20%)

Choose a subject (either a person, place, or thing) as the topic for a short profile. Part of the assignment will be to justify why this subject is story material. We will discuss how to shape a profile in class.

The first part of the assignment is to write a scene (2-3 pages), drawn from the research for your major article. Focus on one of your major characters and base your scene on information derived from interviewing and observing your subject. This scene should be something that you plan on using in your final project and should exhibit the kind of stylistic techniques you will be using.  This cannot be a friend, UCI faculty member, roommate, family member, or fellow student.

In researching this scene, I want you to take a camera with you.  You will take pictures that you will later use as a memory aid for reconstructing the details of your scene, in addition to your handwritten notes.  Both photos and notes need to be turned in with the scene. The quality of the photographs won’t affect your grade—the photos are a tool used to help you write better. You don’t have to buy expensive camera equipment; a disposable camera or phone camera is fine.

The second part is based on a first, polished draft of this profile of 8-10 pages. This first draft should not be seen as a “rough” draft. Instead, it should be your best work. You’ll get both oral and written feedback from your peers and from the instructor. The second part of your grade depends on your revision based on that feedback. You should expect to hand in two fully re-worked drafts of this piece. Writing is revision.

Critical Reading Responses and Research Logs 15%

Percentage Breakdown: 5% Critical Reading Responses; 10% Research Logs

You will be required to write a short critical reading response paper for each story we read in our literary journalism anthologies this quarter. This is will work out to be about two reading responses per week, or one per class. You will turn them in on Canvas each week.

For these reading response papers (1 page), you may pick out an element of craft (character, setting, scene, dialogue, tension, tone, narrative stance, point of view, etc.) and discuss how and why or to what effect and purpose the author uses the craft element in the story. You can compare the story to another story we’ve read. You can ask yourself what works well in the story and why? In short, this is your chance to show what you’ve learned from the reading and it should help prepare you to contribute to our class discussion. In order to facilitate these class discussions, as well as to help you read the texts more closely, you may also be asked to answer study questions or to bring in passages from the session’s assigned reading.

In the second half of the quarter, you will submit weekly research logs to the class forum on Canvas. If you are having specific reporting concerns, you may also post these here, as well. While these are not formal papers, your entries should not be colloquial.

Attendance and Participation: 15%

As we will discuss, attendance is mandatory and an essential part of this class. By UCI English Department policy, no incompletes will be given. If students miss more than two classes, their grade will be lowered by one full letter grade per absence. The nature of seminar demands attendance and participation, and only students who are sincerely committed to this class are encouraged to take it.

Please come to class prepared to participate each week. Come to class armed with questions, comments, or thoughtful observations for each of the readings. An active engagement with the material—reading the stories carefully and coming prepared to talk about them in class—is essential to the course’s success and to your success as a student.


Two primary writing assignments, the weekly critical reading response papers, and class discussions and participation will make up our main work for the quarter

· Article Analysis (The Essay): 3-5 pages. 25%

· Final Article (The Profile): 8-10 pages. 45%

· Reading Responses and Research Logs: 1 page each, two per week. 15%

· Attendance & Participation in Class Discussions and Seminar: 15%


Add/Drop Policy:

Adds and drops will be allowed only during the first two weeks of the quarter (check registrar for official final drop date). Students can change the grade option to P/NP only during the first two weeks but if you are taking this class for the LitJ major you must take it for a letter grade. After these dates students will need approval from the undergraduate associate dean’s office to add, drop or change the grade option.

Second-day Rule:

The School of Humanities also has a “second-day” rule. If you are not in class on the second day of the quarter (and do not have an emergency to account for your absence) you may lose your place to a student on the waiting list. You are still responsible for dropping the course through the usual procedures. If you know ahead of time that you will be unable to attend on the second day, you should notify me right away.

Academic Honesty & Plagiarism:

All university students are responsible for reading the UCI Academic Honesty Policy (see if you have any questions).

If you have specific questions about what constitutes plagiarism, please ask. Plagiarism will result in a failing paper, and depending on the severity of the offense, it may result in your failing the course. In the past, students have tried to turn in the same work for different Literary Journalism courses or have attempted to revise articles from previous courses for later ones. This is not acceptable. It will result in a failing grade and possibly other disciplinary measures. The work you turn in should be written during this quarter, exclusively for this course.


Students with disabilities who believe they may need accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact the Disability Services Center at (949) 824-7494 as soon as possible to better ensure that such accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion.


All reading assignments should be completed before the beginning of each class period on the date for which they are assigned. Please note: some of the reading assignments may be subject to change. As teacher of the course, I reserve the right to make changes to all assignments as necessary. If any changes are made, I will let you know ahead of time. For now, this will be our schedule for the quarter.

Week One: Introduction to the Art and Craft of Literary Journalism

September 28 — Review Syllabus & Course Overview; Administration Material

September 30 — Norman Sims – “The Art of Literary Journalism” (Sims & Kramer)

Walt Harrington – “Prologue: The Job of Remembering” and

“A Writer’s Essay: Seeking the Extraordinary”

Week Two: Nuts & Bolts

October 5 — Mark Kramer – “10 Breakable Rules for Literary Journalists” (S&K)

October 7 — Madelaine Blais – “Zepp’s Last Stand” (Harrington)

Week Three: The Profile

October 12 — Walt Harrington – “True Detective” (Harrington)

October 14 — Ted Conover – “The Road Is Very Unfair: Trucking Across Africa (S&K)

Article for Analytic Paper Selected

Week Four: The Unreliable Narrator

October 19 — Mike Sager – “Death in Venice” (Harrington)

October 21 — Calvin Trillin – “First Family of Astoria” (Sims & Kramer)

Analytic Paper First Draft Due. In-Class Peer Review.

Week Five: Society

October 26 — Susan Orlean – “The American Man at Age 10” (Harrington)

October 28 — Jon Franklin – “Mrs. Kelly’s Monster”


Weekly research logs begin this week. These will be due each Friday at 5PM on Canvas

Week Six: Tone

November 2 — Adrian Nicole LeBlanc – “Trina and Trina” (Sims & Kramer)

November 4 — David Quammen – “Strawberries Under Ice” (Sims & Kramer)

Week Seven: Research & Discussion

November 9 — Tracy Kidder – “Memory” (Sims & Kramer)

Brent Staples – “Mr. Bellow’s Planet” (Sims & Kramer)

Preliminary Scene Assignment Due

November 11 — NO CLASS:Veterans Day

Week Eight: Sports & Life

November 16 — Gary Smith – “Shadow of a Nation” (Sims & Kramer)

November 18 — Madeline Blais – “In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle” (Harrington)

__ Hunter S. Thompson – “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”

(PDF on Canvas)

Week Nine: Presentations & Peer Review

November 23 — *Final Reading – Teacher’s Choice (TBA) (PDF on Canvas or handout)

Major Profile Draft I Due. In class peer review.

November 25 — In-Class Group Presentations

Each group will bring in an example of literary journalism of your choosing from a recent issue of a magazine (within the past six months).

Be prepared to give a short presentation to the class on:

· What techniques the author used

· The larger issues raised by the article

· Why you personally found the piece compelling

· One idea, technique, or approach that you have learned from this article that you might apply to your profile

Groups will be assigned and each individual in the group will be responsible for covering one of the above aspects of the chosen article

Week Ten: Writing & Workshop

November 30 — Class Workshop

December 2 — Class Reading, Final Assignment Collected, Class Concluded


(Last Day of Class)

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