Are You New to the Journalistic Essay? Start Here!

The stories you see here are the culminations of semester-long projects of students in Kristin Winet’s Fall 2016 ENG300 class, The Journalistic Essay, in the Hamilton Holt School at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.

We define the “journalistic essay” as a piece of nonfiction writing that utilizes the storytelling elements of fiction, but we’ve come to understand the form in many ways. Over the course of the semester, we read some of the journalistic greats, including Joan Didion, John McPhee, and David Foster Wallace, but we also read some new voices, like Katherine Boo, Jenny Everett, and Cat Bohannon. We first examined the ways these writers tell personal stories (if you’ve never read Jon Franklin’s 1979 masterpiece “Mrs. Kelly’s Monsters” or Susan Orlean’s 1994 “The American Man at Age 10,” we encourage you to do so immediately!) and how many of them weave active research into their storytelling (ever read about Cat Bohannon’s bizarre trip to the Body Worlds exhibit or Jenny Everett’s tale of her brother’s struggle with growth hormones?) What all of the stories we read–and wrote–have in common is that they take events and moments in the real world and turn them into researched investigations.

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The stories you read on this site will inspire you to look at the world just a little more closely. You’ll go on a journey to a tiny Irish church where you’ll find the mysterious Book of Kells; you’ll go on a helicopter dog rescue mission; you’ll attend a Deadhead concert; and you’ll learn about what it takes to be a single mom who does it all. You’ll read about becoming one of the first African-American entrepreneurs in the car business; you’ll understand why it’s so culturally difficult for black women to have depression; and you’ll learn about Caribbean scuba diving, Bahamanian music, Moroccan economics, and Israeli music. You’ll dive into the world of counterfeit bills and college internship programs in Disneyworld. You’ll meet a famous NASCAR driver. You’ll read how religion can cure anxiety. You’ll learn what it takes to get custody of your daughter if you’re a father in Florida. You’ll even hear the story of how a stroke victim whose oft-told tale about watching a restaurant burn down when she was five years old in Vietnam–a story no one believed–turned out to be true. By the end of it all, we hope you’ll have a greater appreciation for the stories that happen around you, every day.

When I asked the class to write about this class and the journalistic essay, their responses were interesting and varied, so we decided to publish them here. For many of these students, this was the first writing class they had taken in a long time–and I promise you, these stories won’t let you down.

Here’s what they said:

So, what was this class all about? Lonicia said it well:

This is a class of geniuses who come together to put their hearts on the table and transfer their story on paper.

We also talked about what we learned about storytelling:

I learned to become a better thinker and writer. The next time you pick up a pen and paper be sure to show rather than tell! Writing is such a magic way of exploring your thoughts through words. – Deborah

We talked about purposes for writing:

A course that examines narrative writing with purposes such as to inform and entertain, to discover and transmit their voices, passions, personal thoughts, and life stories on paper. – Georyana

We talked about why so many journalistic writers are obsessed with their subjects:

A course full of exploration and discovery….a journey into obsession. – Christian

And, we thought about the genre:

The journalistic essay was a great informal way to do research and tell a story. – Brandye

We thought about doing research:

Exploring the world through new eyes. Turning the known into the investigated! – Taylor

And we thought about how publishing our work can reach new audiences:

It’s fun to create a story and thread it with research. The Oval Table then releases our tales. – Sumaya

We had some doubters:

I didn’t think that a journalistic essay would combine my two favorite hobbies, interviewing and researching! – Ruth

But we also thought about looking outside ourselves:

The journalistic essay gives us a powerful platform for telling other’s stories. – Jasmine

And we talked about its difficulties:

To learn the art of molding a story; as development of clay base to elaborate into an ornate vase takes precision, time, patience, and skill. – Jose

But overall, we’ve learned it’s a fun genre to write.

As Roosevelt said,

The class which allows your words to go from your heart, to their ears.

We hope you enjoy our projects!

XO,

The class of ENG300

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    By: Kristin Winet

    Kristin Winet is Assistant Professor of English at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. She’s also a traveler, a writer, and a photographer – and her favorite genre (in case you hadn’t guessed) is the nonfiction essay because it combines all three. Get in touch with her at kwinet@rollins.edu.

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