|Start here (Nieman Storyboard)
and you'll get a good sense of what narrative nonfiction is all about.
"There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories."
~Ursula K. LeGuin
"It's four little words. Tell me a story. And that's all we do....Even the people who wrote the Bible were smart enough to know, tell them a story. The issue was evil in the world. The story was Noah. Now, the Bible knew that. And for some reason or other, I latched onto it."
~ Don Hewitt
, creator of television's 60 Minutes
, in a documentary on his career
"The absence of audio and video in text-only long-form narrative is a feature, not a bug."
~ Richard E. Nash
, speaking about enhanced digital books
"I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil."
~ Truman Capote
"The universe is made of stories, not atoms."
"If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten"
~ Rudyard Kipling
"There is one sacred rule of journalism. The writer must not invent. The legend on the license must read: NONE OF THIS WAS MADE UP."
~ John Hersey, "The Legend on the License," in the Yale Review 70 (1980)
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live."
~ Joan Didion
"Professional writers are often confused. It goes with the territory."
~ Jon Franklin
"Storytelling is fundamental to the human search for meaning."
~ Mary Catherine Bateson
"Like a novel, narrative nonfiction imposes structure, theme and subtext to events, place and character. Unlike novelists, authors of narrative nonfiction must live with the fact that real people and real facts seldom conform very tidily to these conventions. Reality is messy, and sometimes you have to put up with unsatisfying turns to the story."
~ Edward Humes (www.edwardhumes.com)
(pat at patmcnees dot com)
Dying: A Book of Comfort
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Letters of Note
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Paris Review "Writers at Work" Interviews
(selections from 1953 on, a gift to the world, and with a single click you can view a manuscript page with the writer's edits)
(if the news is making you sick, try this approach)
What is narrative nonfiction?
Narrative nonfiction goes under many names, including creative nonfiction, literary journalism, and fact-based storytelling.
In short form, it's an alternative to the traditional newspaper pyramid structure (in which, if you lopped off the bottom part of the story, the reader would still have all the key information). With narrative nonfiction you don't present the main point in the first paragraph—compelling narrative keeps the reader reading to find out what happens, and the journey to the epiphany is half the point. Narrative nonfiction--joining good research with compelling, character-driven storytelling--reads like a novel.
"Creative nonfiction" is misleading in that it implies the facts can be made up. You stick to the truth--the storytelling is fact-based--but you adapt some of the features of fiction (creating a narrative persona, setting scenes, presenting interesting characters, creating the look and feel of a setting, telling a story) to the purposes of journalism.
Basically, it's fact-based storytelling that makes people want to keep reading. Forms of creative nonfiction include literary journalism, the memoir, the lyric essay, the prose poem, and the nonfiction short.
The Nieman Narrative Digest (see links below) provides links to many excellent newspaper series that take advantage of the form. Among magazines, you can find excellent examples of narrative nonfiction in The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Points of Entry, and River Teeth. After a series of links here you will find a list of classic book-length narrative nonfiction, followed by links to a few exceptionally good short narratives or newspaper series readable online.
• The Mayborn literary nonfiction conference
(July 18-20, 2014, Grapevine, Texas)
• The Power of Narrative Conference
(April 4-6, 2014, Boston University) has convened in several places under several names since its founding at Boston University in 1998. For more info see What is this conference about?
• The Latest in Longform
(Nov. 8, 2014 --The Berkeley Narrative Journalism Conference, cosponsored by ASJA Educational Foundation), this new conference brings top editors and writers to Berkeley for a daylong exploration of nonfiction storytelling. Attendance is limited to 75 writers; experience (in any genre) a must. See An intimate new narrative conference, Cali style
(Paige Williams, Nieman Storyboard, 6-6-14)
• Narrative nonfiction events and conferences–is there something here for you?
(Andrea Pitzer, Nieman Storyboard, 2-22-10)
• Oxford (Mississippi) Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference
• Learning to Listen
(Gina Kolata interviews Rita Charon on narrative medicine program at Columbia, NY Times, 12-29-09)
• See also Writers conferences, workshops, and other learning places
(a separate page on Writers and Editors)
Nieman Narrative Conference
• Three “threats” to narrative journalism that New York Times editor Bill Killer is not buying
(Beth Macy, 4-27-10, reporting on Keller's talk at Nieman Narrative conference)
• Tips from Nieman Narrative: What Works for Readers, Editors & Sources
(Bill Kirtz, Poynter, 12-8-04, updated 3-2-11)
• Vanity Fair’s Bryan Burrough on writing narrative: “people are dying to put down your article”
. (Andrea Pitzer's Nieman Storyboard report from Mayborn Conference, 8-6-10). "There’s only one way I know to get people to the end of the story...You have to have some mystery. There has to be a holdback."
• Tips and Tales from Some of the Best in the Business
(Bll Kirtz on Nieman 2006, 11-20-06, updated 3-3-11)
Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference
(Grapevine, Texas, July)
• As experienced by Sam Eifling and described in I Heard It While in Grapevine
(Columbia Journalism Review, 7-28-09)
• Mark Bowden
on the value of beginner’s mind. Andrea Pitzer's Nieman Storyboard report from the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. Bowden is the author of Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War
• Narrative tips for nonfiction writers: more from the 2010 Mayborn Conference
(Tom Huang, 7-28-10)
• Colin Harrison and Sam Gwynne on the editor-writer partnership, going deep and the difference between a subject and a story
• Boston University (BUniverse) talks on narrative nonfiction
, many of them from the 2012 Narrative Arc conference (videotapes):
• 300 Little Words: How to Write Narrative Short and Good
(Roy Peter Clark's talk, which starts at about minute 9 or 10)
• What It Takes: Getting Stories Told in the New World of Narrative Nonfiction
(panelists Ken Auletta, Jill Abramson, Hampton Sides, Amanda Urban, and John Stauffer discuss what it takes to be a long-form narrative nonfiction writer in today’s fast-evolving technological world)
• Clearing Space for the Agenda: Setting Narrative in Digital Journalism
• Jill Abramson: The Power of Narrative
• The Moth & Friends: The Rise of Stories Out Loud
(Jay Allison, independent broadcast journalist, curator and producer of The Moth Radio Hour)
• Beyond the "Like" Button: Digitally Addictive Storytelling and the Brain
(Amy O’Leary, a news editor and multimedia producer for The New York Times)
• Reaching New Audiences with Digital Devices
(Jill Abramson, Managing Editor for the New York Times)
The Power of Narrative: The Rebirth of Storytelling
(about storytelling in all kinds of media, on all kinds of platforms--held at Boston University). Cousin of the now-suspended Nieman Narrative Nonfiction conference. Typically held in April. Here's one participant's reports: 10 Highlights from #BUNarrative
(Susan Johnston, The Urban Muse, 4-10-13). Susan also posted:
Star-Trib’s Laurie Hertzel at #BUNarrative: “Write with a camera angle”
(on E-byline's The News Hook, 4-9-13)
• And here's a story about one keynote talk at the conference (also with video: Dean Starkman on the Confidence Game
, in which he emphasizes that story is not everything; in the story about Enron, for example, journalists should have been thinking more about the numbers. Plus a bit about Barney Frank asking why the press has become so negative and adversarial. That's not productive. It should be more thoughtful.
Power of Narrative Conference 2013
Tips from Power of Narrative Conference 2013
, in Boston
• Star-Trib’s Laurie Hertzel at #BUNarrative: “Write with a camera angle”
• 10 Highlights from #BUNarrative
(Susan Johnston, The Urban Muse, 4-10-13).
• Avoiding ‘story killers,’ finding genius moves with NYT’s O’Leary at #BUNarrative
(Susan Johnston, The News Hook, E-byline, 4-9-13)
More reports and stories from various conferences
• Mary Karr on truth: “the least of my problems as a memoirist, as a writer, is getting my facts right”
(Mary Karr at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, 2010, as posted on Nieman Storyboard)
• Narrative tips for nonfiction writers: more from the 2010 Mayborn Conference
(Tom Huang, Nieman Storyboard, 7-28-10)
• From research to story
. On Nieman Storyboard, Andrea Pitzer presents excerpts from presentations at the BIO (biographers) conference 2011 by Anne Conover Heller (author of Ayn Rand and the World She Made
), John Aloysius Farrell (author of Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned
), and Jane Leavy (author of biographies of Sandy Koufax
and Mickey Mantle
). The final quote sent me (clearly square) to Wikipedia.
• The future of long-form narrative
by Gerry Marzorati, the NY Times Magazine editor's keynote address at the 2009 CASE Editors' Forum
• Gary Smith on intimacy and connecting with subjects
(“Any uneasiness you bring is going to cost you dearly," says the writer from Sports Illustrated). Andrea Pitzer, for Nieman Storyboard, reporting on the Mayborn Conference.
• Helpful tips from a Harvard writers conference
(Livia Blackburn's blog, A Brain Scientist's Take on Writing)
• The Storytellers’ Summit blog
. You can watch videos of great talks from this conference held at the University of Florida in 2010: Roy Peter Clark, Andrea Billups, David Finkel, Ellis Amburn, Lane DeGregory, Keith Sykes & Tom Corcoran, Liz Balmaseda & Fabiola Santiago, Tom French, and three biographers: John Capouya, William McKeen & Ellis Amburn.[Back to Top]
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• The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism , ed. Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda
• The Elements of Story: Field Notes on Nonfiction Writing, by Francis Flaherty (excellent short takes on the architecture, bones, & tendrils of story and character development, especially for journalism)
• Follow the Story: How to Write Successful Nonfiction by James Stewart
• To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction by Phillip Lopate
• Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft, by Janet Burroway
• Now Write! Nonfiction: Memoir, Journalism and Creative Nonfiction Exercises from Today's Best Writers ed. by Sherry Ellis (writing exercises of masters of creative nonfiction)
• Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: The Art of Truth, ed. Bill Roorbach (anthology that brings together examples of all three of the main forms in the genre: the literary memoir, the personal essay, and literary journalism)
• Intimate Journalism: The Art and Craft of Reporting Everyday Life, ed. Walt Harrington
• The Elements of Narrative Nonfiction: How to Write and Sell the Novel of True Events by Peter Rubie (published in an earlier version as "Telling the Story: How to Write and Sell Narrative Nonfiction")
• Keep It Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction , by Lee Gutkind (less practically helpful than other books listed here)
• Literary Journalism, ed. Norman Sims and Mark Kramer
• Literary Nonfiction: Learning by Example, ed. Patsy Sims
• The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing, ed. Alice LaPlante (how writers create -- for serious writing students and teachers)
• The New New Journalism: Conversations with America's Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft by Robert Boynton
• Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound, ed. John Biewen. See also: Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production by Jonathan Kern
• The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teachers, edited by Dinty W. Moore (a handbook on the brief essay form)
• The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrativeby Vivian Gornick (a slim book about writing essays and memoirs, with examples from other writers.
Writes Gornick: "Memoir isn't what happened but what the writer makes of what happened.")
• Story Building: Narrative Techniques for News and Feature Writers by Ndaeyo Uko
••• Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack Hart. An excellent book on the craft of short narrative nonfiction from the former managing editor of the Oregonian, who guided several Pulitzer Prize–winning narratives to publication. “Jack Hart was hands-down the best narrative editor ever to work in newspapers,” writes Jon Franklin
• Telling the Story : How to Write and Sell Narrative Nonfiction by Peter Rubie (a solidly practical book to how to write a narrative nonfiction BOOK and the book proposal that will land an agent to sell it to a publisher, by a former literary agent)
• Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers' Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, ed. Mark Kramer, Wendy Call (an excellent guide)
• Tell It Slant:Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola. See especially A Braided Heart: Shaping the Lyric Essay by Brenda Miller
• The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics by Dennis O'Neil
• To Tell the Truth: Practice and Craft in Narrative Nonfiction by Connie D. Griffin (students like the personal essays that reveal the writers' internal processes)
• Writing a Book That Makes a Difference by Philip Gerard (principles that apply to both fiction and nonfiction--books that are memorable and change people's lives)
• Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by Jon Franklin. A classic guide to identifying the conflict-resolution outline (conflict, rising action, climax, denouement) that makes for a good story and helps you "write smarter."
• Writing Creative Nonfiction: Instruction and Insights from Teachers of the Associated Writing Programs, ed. Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerard
Some works aimed at fiction or screen writers may also be useful to writers of narrative nonfiction:
• The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, by John Gardner
• The Passionate, Accurate Story: Making Your Heart's Truth into Literature, by Carol Bly (you'll have to buy used copies as it's out of print)
• The Screenwriter's Workbook, by Syd Field
• Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew,by Ursula K. Le Guin
• Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert McKee
• The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters by Christopher Vogler
• You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction--from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between, ed. Lee Gutkind
• Tom Wolfe's mid-century anthology, The New Journalism, is out of print but available as used books. As one amazon.com reviewer observes: "The predictions in Wolfe's manifesto haven't panned out as pervasively as he expected - if anything, today's writerly writers, by and large, are more gimmicky, narcissistic and insulated than ever - but that's capital-L Literature's loss, and the night is young."
• What we’re following: truthiness in narrative
• Truth in Nonfiction: A Testimonial
(Dylan Nice, Rumpus Room, 7-3-12)
• Errol Morris v. Janet Malcolm
(Emily Bazelon, Slate, 9-13-12). The documentary filmmaker takes on the Jeffrey MacDonald murder case. In his new book A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald
, Morris addresses flaws in two well-publicized books: Fatal Vision
by Joe McGinnis and The Journalist and the Murderer
by Janet Malcolm. Error writes of “Two journalists—one who betrays MacDonald by twisting the facts and another who tells him facts don’t make a difference.” What a good book-group or narrative nonfiction discussion topic. MacDonald is still in prison and someone somewhere clearly screwed up.
• The Lifespan of a Fact
, book by John D'Agata, author, and Jim Fingal, fact checker. A meditation on the relationship between “truth” and “accuracy” and a penetrating conversation about whether it is appropriate for a writer to substitute one for the other.
• Mary Karr on truth: “the least of my problems as a memoirist, as a writer, is getting my facts right”
(Mary Karr at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, 2010, as posted on Nieman Storyboard)
• The Line Between Fact and Fiction
(Roy Peter Clark, Nieman Storyboard, 9-7-04). Among principles discussed: Do not add. Do not deceive. Be unobtrusive. Stories should not only be true, they should ring true. Check it out or leave it out.
• Lawrence Wechsler on the Fiction of Nonfiction
(transcript, On the Media, 12-24-12). On composites, not using tape recorders, and other details of media life.
• As Sedaris walks line between real and ‘realish,’ NPR is left in the middle
(Paul Farhi, Washington Post 5-13-12)
• 460: Retracted
. Public radio's This American Life
retracts Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory
(Mike Daisey's story about visiting Foxconn, which makes iPads and other products for Apple in China), after Marketplace's China correspondent Rob Schmitz discovers fabrications.
• 4 important truths about Mike Daisey’s lies & the way ‘This American Life’ told them
(Craig Silverman, Poynter, 3-19-12). Google Daisey, Glass, and This American Life and you can find dozens of analyses of this story and issue)
• In the Details: 'The Lifespan of a Fact'by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal
( Jennifer B. MacDonald, NYTBR, 2-21-12)
• The Fact-Checker Versus the Fabulist
(Gideon Lewis-Kraus, NY Times Magazine 2-21-12). More about D'Agata and Fingal.
• Codes of ethics of various journalism organizations
This group of links merely skims the surface on this topic, but the principles should be clear.
"An accurate statement is factually correct; a true statement, besides being accurate, should mean what it seems to mean." ~ Barbara Walraff (Copy Editor, Feb-March 2005)
The Art of Listening
(Henning Mankell, NY Times Sunday Book Review, 12-10-11, on what we can learn from the African storytelling tradition. One story ends: "“That’s not a good way to die — before you’ve told the end of your story.”
• Joan Didion, The Art of Nonfiction No. 1
(interviewed by Hilton Als)
• Gay Talese, The Art of Nonfiction No. 2
(interviewed by Katie Roiphe)
• John McPhee, The Art of Nonfiction No. 3
(interviewed by Peter Hessler)
• Janet Malcolm, The Art of Nonfiction No. 4
(interviewed by Katie Roiphe)
• Emmanuel Carrère, The Art of Nonfiction No. 5
(interviewed by Susannah Hunnewell)
• Paris Review "Writers at Work" Interviews
(selections from 1953 on, a gift to the world, and with a single click you can view a manuscript page with the writer's edits)
• Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews
(one volume of many, in an excellent series)
The "Basic" Plots in Literature
Breaking into Creative Nonfiction, Part 1: The Basics
(Chip Scanlan, Poynter Online 4-17-03); Part 2, Getting that First Acceptance, Assignment
Bruce Dobler's Creative Nonfiction Compendium
(with reading list and notes, thanks to the Wayback Machine
, stories about and reactions to:
• Byliner: The Pandora of Nonfiction Reading
Adam Clark Estes (The Atlantic, 6-21-11). In this "pro" article, Estes calls Byliner "a discovery engine for the best long form nonfiction writing... Imagine an aggregator like Arts & Letters Daily meets Google News and has a beautifully designed baby."
• Byliner Sure Is Slick, But Is It Also Stealing?
Adam Clark Estes (The Atlantic, 6-22-11)
• Byliner CEO excited about ‘opportunity to discover some great writers’
(Mallary Jean Tenore, Poynter Online, 6-21-11) "When deciding whether to start another book or write magazine stories, [CEO and founder John Tayman] began exploring the space between magazines and books."
• From Wife-Swapping to Spelunking to Princess Di: Byliner Is What It Promised To Be
--"the most viable marriage yet between widespread deep-reading and the Internet browser." (Michael Humphrey, Forbes 7-1-11).
• Byliner Rolls The Dice On Long-Form
(Bill Barol, Forbes.com 6-23-11). "It isn’t limiting itself to curation and aggregation...there are Byliner Originals in ebook form..." "Read-later capability is limited at the moment to the ReadItLater service..."
• Byliner aims for the space between books and magazines
(Steve Meyers, Poynter 4-20-11)
Building Character: A Checklist
by Jack Hart (Nieman Storyboard, 10-15-04)
Can We Humanize the Web?
New sites aim for story-telling that connects us. (Wall Street Journal, Marvels, 12-31-11)
CBC Dispatches, Part 1: Sounding out your story
. Nieman Storyboard features best tips from the audio storytelling handbook of the Canadian Broadcasting Company's Dispatches weekly radio show of documentaries, essays, interviews and reports from around the world. Followed by (Part 2: Composing with sound
and Part 3: Writing for radio
Center for Digital Storytelling
, a California-based community arts organization rooted in the craft of personal storytelling, with an emphasis on first-person narrative, meaningful workshop processes, and participatory production methods. Newsletter focuses on five core area: Stories of Health, Silence Speaks (stories to fight gender-based violence), Witness Tree (stories of place and environmental change),Immigrant Voices, and Women, Girls, and Leadership.
Good explanations and narrative nonfiction resources
Characters in narrative nonfiction
• Literary License: Defending Joseph Mitchell's composite characters.
(Meghan O'Rourke, Slate, 7-29-03)
. Part 3 of Adam Hochschild's four-part series on writing historical narratives, Meanwhile, back at the ranch (Nieman Storyboard, based on a lecture Feb. 2011 at Vanderbilt University).
• "Like a novel, narrative nonfiction imposes structure, theme and subtext to events, place and character. Unlike novelists, authors of narrative nonfiction must live with the fact that real people and real facts seldom conform very tidily to these conventions. Reality is messy, and sometimes you have to put up with unsatisfying turns to the story." ~ Edward Humes (www.edwardhumes.com)
• Exploring Characters in Narrative Nonfiction
(YouTube video) Isabel Wilkerson 'auditioned' over 1,200 people in order to find the three characters that ultimately shaped her award-winning book, "The Warmth of Other Suns" (2010).
• Jack Hart on “Storycraft” and narrative nonfiction as an American literary form
(Nieman Storyboard). Hart responds to the question "A lot of the best narratives have sympathetic but often deeply flawed protagonists. Do you have suggestions on how to keep it real while maintaining the reader’s sympathy for the protagonist?"
• Three R’s of Narrative Nonfiction
(Lee Gutkind, Opinionator, NY Times, 12-17-12) "In the end, thorough research and real world exploration followed by fact-checking review shapes and sharpens the story, ensures writer credibility and allows for fair and equitable treatment of the characters involved. And by carefully following the three R process, writers of nonfiction will be prepared to answer the inevitable question: 'How do you know?'"
Chris Jones on structuring a mystery
, about two stories he wrote for Esquire: The End of Mystery
(what happens when a helicopter goes down and the men on the ground try to unscramble the mystery of why) and The Things That Carried Him
(the true story behind one soldier's last trip home)
by Rachel Toor (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 12-3-07) on what to call this "new" genre
Creating Scenes: The Yellow Test
(Lee Gutkind, The Opinionator, NY Timnes 8-22-12). "Readers remember information longer — and are more likely to be persuaded by ideas and opinions — when it’s presented to them in scenes. This is why so many TV commercials are narrative."
(the magazine, true stories well told--"simply great essays by talented writers," wrote Library Journal)
(Wikipedia entry and reading list)
Creative Nonfiction Collectivea (Canadian, plans to meet annually at Banff)
Creative vs. narrative vs. literary nonfiction
(Caroline Kettlewell, on her narrative nonfiction blog). Also, check out Kettlewell on What is the personal essay?
and What is this thing called nonfiction
(about the differences between fiction and nonfiction).
• “Why’s this so good?” No. 39: Gay Talese diagnoses Frank Sinatra
(Maria Henson, Nieman Storyboard 4-24-12)
• Getting the story: Luke Dittrich and the tornado
(Paige Williams, Nieman Storyboard, 4-13-12)
Digital storytelling, Hurricane Katrina, and using technology with a "narrative purpose"
, a Nieman Storyboard interview with USA Today interactives director Joshua Hatch on Stories from the Second Line
and the making of Hurricane Katrina: 5 Years Later
, a series that combines maps, interactive visuals, video and bare-bones text.
Download the Universe
(founded by Carl Zimmer, this science e-book review site will lead you to what's hot in the science e-book universe, as reviewed by good science writers)
The end of the line for the Lone Ranger?
(A how-to guide for narrative collaboration, Beth Macy, Nieman Storyboard 11-24-09)
Esquire's 70 Greatest Sentences
. Seventy lines that sparkle, invoke, provoke, or are just damn enjoyable to read. Both fiction and nonfiction, including: "Twenty-four years later, on Wednesday, August 28, at nine-thirty o'clock, in full view of ten million people, the little door in William F. Buckley Jr.'s forehead suddenly opened and out sprang that wild cuckoo which I had always known was there but had wanted so much for others, preferably millions of others, to get a good look at."
--Gore Vidal, "A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley Jr.," 1969
Essays on Craft
(Nieman Storyboard, into which the former Nieman Narrative Digest merged -- both narrative sites of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard)
First Person Singular: It’s not just about you
(Adam Hochschild, Nieman Storyboard, 6-28-06)
How many interviews?
(Jeanne Erdmann, Ask TON, TheOPENNotebook, 7-16-13)
Implied authors. Krugman, Krauthammer and Their Implied Authors
(Cass R. Sunstein, Bloomberg, 12-10-12). "Implied authors may or may not be like their real-world counterparts. A novelist may be cruel and vicious to his family and friends, but in his novels, his implied author may be kind and gentle. A poet who is a loving wife and mother may produce poetry whose implied author is venomous and full of rage." A fascinating explanation of how things work in fiction and narrative nonfiction. But he also applies it to political discussions: "...the characteristics of implied authors tend to be contagious. In particular, contempt and suspicion, and a fundamental lack of generosity, spread like wildfire. "
Ira Glass of This American Life
, the popular show on WBEZ public radio, gives an interview on Storytelling, 8-18-09, in four parts. Click here for Part 1
(the anecdote and the moment of reflection as the two building blocks of a radio story); Part 2
(the amount of time it takes to find a good story and the importance of being tough and killing the boring parts; Part 3
(how much time you have to put in to get to the point where your skills match your good taste), and Part 4
(being yourself and being a good listener, because what's interesting is the way you interact with people, not your take on things). Listen to stories from the archive
or on the radio (find your local stations)
Edward Humes on narrative nonfiction
How to organize research on a heavily researched subject
(Jean Strouse, in an interview for Bookreporter.com--scroll down for that Q&A)
The human heart of the matter
. Novelist Geoff Dyer argues that recent reportage about military conflict trumps fiction in its characterisation, observation and narrative drive (The Guardian 6-12-10). He compares two new books, David Finkel's The Good Soldiers and Sebastian Junger's War to a shelf of other first-rate books on the subject: Steve Coll's Ghost Wars; Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower; George Packer's The Assassins' Gate; Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City; and Dexter Filkins's The Forever War.
Internet Classics Archive
Interview with Jack Hitt (Part 1)
and Part 2
, by Conor Firedersdorf (and if your writing has been a struggle, Part 2, on the writing process, will make you feel better, or smile). See also
Jack Hart on “Storycraft” and narrative nonfiction as an American literary form
(Nieman Storyboard 10-20-11)
Kindle Single e-books extend potential for long-form journalists
. New Kindle Single e-books from The New York Times and ProPublica "highlight the potential for journalists to find new audiences, and possibly new revenue, for long-form reporting."Amazon officially unveils new Kindle Singles
Lee Gutkind, The Voice of Creative Nonfiction
The Line Between Fact and Fiction
(Roy Peter Clark, Nieman Storyboard, 9-7-04)
Lines in the Mud: Exploring Creative Non-Fiction
Lost and found: How great nonfiction writers discover great ideas
(Brendan Borrell, The OPENNotebook, 12-13-11)
Mary Karr on truth
. Andrea Pitzer's Nieman Storyboard report from Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference: “the least of my problems as a memoirist, as a writer, is getting my facts right.”
The Meandering River: An Overview of the Subgenres of Creative Nonfiction
, Sue William Silverman's essay on the subgenres of (biography, autobiography, immersion essay, memoir, personal essay, meditative essay, lyric essay, and various mixtures of same) and her excellent and interestingly organized reading list of, contemporary creative nonfiction
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (Part 1)
Adam Hochschild's four-part series on storytelling and historical narratives, based on a talk given at Vanderbilt University in February 2011 (Nieman Storyboard 3-24-11). Part 1
is a call to bridge the divide between academic writing and narratives intended for the general public. Part 2: Setting
addresses the importance of setting and scene in storytelling. And Part 3: Character
examines the role of characters in historical writing. Part 4
is about plot. How do you unfold a story, and how do you unfold it in a way that is going to hold the reader’s attention?
Menand, Louis. Excellent New Yorker essay, The Historical Romance: Edmund Wilson's Adventures with Communism
( 3-24-03), in which Menand writes: "Intuitive knowledge—the sense of what life was like when we were not there to experience it—is precisely the knowledge we seek. It is the true positive of historical work."
The Miami Herald: a case study in the rise of literary journalism at newspapers
(Andrea Pitzer, Nieman Storyboard 5-27-10)
Mining the Literary Middle Ground
(Hernán Iglesias Illa, Publishing Perspectives, 8-5-11).Online start-ups Byliner
and The Atavist
have established a market for stories too long for magazines and too short for books (between 5,000 word magazine articles and 100,000 words books. Much of their income is from apps, not content.
(live storytelling events in New York City)
(Richard Gilbert's blog)
Narrative and Healing
(The Physician as Patient, LitSite, Alaska)
The Narrative in the Neurons
(Wray Herbert, We're Only Human blog, 7-14-09)
National Book Award winner T.J. Stiles on telling good stories and asking big questions
News Feature v. Narrative: What’s the Difference?
(Rebecca Allen, Nieman Storyboard, 1-9-06). Excellent explanation and examples.
• Notable narratives
(the full archive of this excellent series, each piece linking to and commenting on a strong piece of narrative journalism)
• Top 10 Storyboard posts of 2012
• Nieman Storyboard essays on craft
• Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism
• Nieman Seminar for Narrative Editors
• Fellows' Seminar in Narrative Journalism
Nonfiction Page Turners
(transcript of Authors Guild Foundation symposium, with panelists Melissa Fay Greene, Nick Taylor, Sebastian Junger, Dava Sobel, Hampton Sides)
Nonny de la Peña on “Gone Gitmo,” Stroome and the future of interactive storytelling
Ernesto Pirego (Nieman Storyboard 1-30-11) interviews one of the co-founders of Stroome.com
, a community that allows online collaborative remixing of visual journalism
Notable writers talk about their craft
(Literary Nonfiction, University of Oregon). Interviews with authors of literary nonfiction, including Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Mary Roach, Ted Conover, Naka Nathaniel, Melissa Fay Greene, Mark Bowden, Susan Faludi, Anne Fadiman, Tracy Kidder, Gretel Ehrlich, Benoit Denizet-Lewis, Terry Tempest Williams, Edward Humes, Charles R. Cross, Adam Hochschild.
Not Always Bingo
. Ruth Franklin (The New Republic, 4-6-11) reviews Janet Malcolm's new book,Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial
. "Malcolm eschews the pretense of certainty that most journalists adopt; instead, her process of probing the ambiguities, of investigating exactly how much she knows and does not know, becomes crucial to her narratives. 'The instability of human knowledge is one of our few certainties,' she wrote in Two Lives
, her recent book about Gertrude Stein’s life and work. 'Almost everything we know we know incompletely at best.'"
Out of Eden Walk
(a journey through time, journalist Paul Salopek's planned seven-year "slow journalism" trek, "a solo 21,000-mile walk that will trace the path of human migration from Africa, through the Middle East and Asia, across the Bering Sea to North America, and down the western coast of the Americas to the tip of South America." See Editor & Publisher account,
Journalist Embarks on 7-Year Walk
(Nu Yang, 2-4-13). Funded by the National Geographic Society and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. He "will carry as little as possible in his backpack, including notebooks, writing utensils, a camera, and a laptop to file online written, video, and audio dispatches to his editors back home."
The Power and Glory of Sportwriting
(Nicholas Dawidoff, NY Times 7-28-12). "An editor at Sports Illustrated once advised me that the art of the work rested in telling people who already know what happened a story so compelling that they forget everything and, at the end, wish they’d been there....to regard sports as a parallel world full of little climaxes and telling details, just waiting for you to make the most of them."
Program in Narrative Medicine
(fortifies clinical practice with the narrative competence to recognize, absorb, metabolize, interpret, and be moved by the stories of illness), College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University
Pulitzer Prize winners from 2011 -- a sampler of narrative winners
(Andrea Pitzer, Nieman Storyboard 4-19-11)
A Q&A with Michael Mooney on elaborate outlining, “The Legend of Chris Kyle,” and the importance of access (Meagan Flynn, Beyond the New Yorker, 8-14-13). About this piece: The Legend of Chris Kyle
(Michael J. Mooney, D Magazine, 3-18-13). The deadliest sniper in U.S. history performed near miracles on the battlefield. Then he had to come home.
Radio shows featuring storytelling
Scanlan, Chip, "The First Peril: Fabrication"
(The Legend on the License Revisited, Poynter)
Searching for Gary Smith
(Sarah Perry's profile in Mayborn Magazine of the great sportswriter -- who knows how to live in and then write the story)
Slow Journalism. Out of Eden Walk
(a journey through time, journalist Paul Salopek's planned seven-year "slow journalism" trek, "a solo 21,000-mile walk that will trace the path of human migration from Africa, through the Middle East and Asia, across the Bering Sea to North America, and down the western coast of the Americas to the tip of South America." See Editor & Publisher account, Journalist Embarks on 7-Year Walk
(Nu Yang, 2-4-13). Funded by the National Geographic Society and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. He "will carry as little as possible in his backpack, including notebooks, writing utensils, a camera, and a laptop to file online written, video, and audio dispatches to his editors back home."
The State of Narrative Nonfiction Writing
(the entire Fall 2000 issue of Nieman Reports, with many important articles -- click on topics along left side)
A story asks a question
(Bill Harley, Song, Story and Culture blog, 12-11-12)
Story-Based Inquiry: A manual for investigative journalists
(free PDF, in English, French, Arabic, or Chinese, from UNESCO)
, a startup that started filtering videoclips about the turmoil in Egypt, is partnering with YouTube's CitizenTube
, YouTube’s news and politics channel, in an experiment in teamwork to "curate" the news knowledgeably. Read Storyful Now: Egypt in Revolt
(Nieman Journalism Lab, 2-4-11)
Story, interrupted: why we need new approaches to digital narrative
(Pedro Monteiro, Nieman Storyboard 9-8-11). Well-illustrated guide to how narrative may need to adapt on new platforms.
(reporters and readers come together to shape stories at the Washington Post)
• Naming the dog: The art of narrative structure
(Christie Aschwanden, The Open Notebook, 9-14-11) "Most stories, French says, fall into one of five basic narrative structures: boy meets girl, there and back (a journey), us versus them, making it (transcending an obstacle), rescuing the princess from the underworld, and the most popular story of all — the Cinderella tale."
• Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories
(video of a witty and lecture)
• Narrative Structures
(Rebecca Ray, StoryboardThat, ), writes about narrative (or literary) structures (with diagrams): Five Act structure, types of Shakespearean plays, the plot diagram, and the Hero’s Journey, with
• How Rebecca Skloot built The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
(David Dobbs interview with Skloot, The Open Notebook, 11-22-11) Well worth reading. See also her handwritten notes
• Rebecca Skloot
, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
, on "narrating history: 'looking for that one family, that one person, that one moment that will help hold everything together'"(Nieman Storyboard, 7-16-10)
• Story structure, really reporting Christmas and the problem with the “sacred space” approach to narrative
(Nieman Storyboard, by Hank Steuver,author of Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present
(John McPhee, New Yorker, 1-14-13). Only subscribers can read the whole piece (but you might be able to find it in the library).
• A Simple Way to Create Suspense
(Lee Child, Opinionator, NY Times, 12-8-12). This principle applies whether you are writing fiction or narrative nonfiction.
• Weaving a seamless tale from threads of narrative and exposition
(Anil Ananthaswamy, The Open Notebook, 4-22-14)
• The essence of story, in a 358-word song
(Tommy Tomlinson, Nieman Storyboard, 2-14-12). "Ode to Billie Joe" contains concrete detail, dialogue, suspense, imagery, meaning
• Storyboard 75: The big book of narrative
. A wonderful online treasury of some of the most popular posts on Nieman Storyboard. Read and learn.[Back to Top]
Stranger than Fiction: The Art of Literary Journalism
. William McKeen, Lecture 1, Ancestors--storytelling, gossip, language, ways of preserving sounds as writing,newspapers, journalism, mass literacy, and so on. (Modern Scholar, available as audio downloads from LearnOutLoud.com). Free download of first 35 minutes, $35 for the whole tamale.
Telling science stories…wait, what’s a “story”?
(Bora Zivkovic, A Blog Around the Clock, 7-13-11). " In the Inverted Pyramid approach to journalism, the first couple of sentences (the “lede”) provide the next most important information, and so on, with the least important stuff at the end. In many ways, it is the opposite of a narrative – the punch-line goes first, the build-up after. The beauty of the Inverted Pyramid for the writers and editors is that any article can be chopped up and made shorter....You can’t do that with a narrative, where clues can be hidden all along the way, and the grand solution comes close to the end. "
35 Powerful Photos That Tell A Story
(Aquil Akhter, Noupe, 12-5-09)
The 3 Core Elements of Good Storytelling (And Why Your Business Needs Them)
(Sean d'Souza, Copyblogger). The sequence, the suspense, and the roller coaster.
Three R’s of Narrative Nonfiction
(Lee Gutkind, Opinionator, NY Times, 12-17-12)
Tracing the arc of the narrative
(Bill Kirtz, Media Nation, 3-27-12). An excerpt: "Mark Kramer, author of several non-fiction books and editor of Telling True Stories
, said that as narrative journalism has developed into a genre, standards have gotten tighter. His often-repeated rules: make nothing up, no 'tweaking' time sequences and be straight with sources."
(an excellent showcase & workshop for New Public Radio)
Tricks of the Trade: Narrative Writing
(T. DeLene Beeland, reporting on the narration panel at ScienceOnline2013, which she cochaired with David Dobbs).
25 Best True Crime Books
as selected by Todd Jensen, whose forensicColleges.net blog
provides advice to those considering becoming forensic scientists. See also his 20 Must Read Forensics Books
The Vestigial Tale
(Joel Achenbach on Gary Smith and the endangerment of detailed, long-form narrative in the age of Twitter, Washington Post 10-28-09). "In our modern click-and-skim world, there's dwindling time and space for the expertly crafted narrative."
What is narrative, anyway?
(Chip Scanlan, part of a series on Poynter Online, 9-29-03)
***When journalists become authors: a few cautionary tips
(Peter Ginna, Nieman Storyboard 12-15-11).
***Why's This So Good?
Links to Nieman Storyboard contributors analyzing what makes some of the best narrative nonfiction read so well.
(a paid-subscription-only listserv for discussing the craft--still occasionally interesting, but the conversation is dying down)
Writers on Writing
(archive of the New York Times column, in which writers explore literary themes)
Writing Creative Nonfiction That Editors Can’t Refuse
(Deborah A. Lott, Los Angeles Editors & Writers Group, 2012)
Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Wetzel on creating digital narratives
(“you’ve got to fight for every reader”
Your Brain on Story: Why Narratives Win Our Hearts and Minds
(Michele Wheldon, Pacific-Standard, 4-22-14) "Our craving and connection to story is so much more than a haphazard preference."
[Back to Top]
Linking on a title/link will take you to the Amazon.com page for the title, where you'll find information about the book. Any purchase you make after following such a link will bring a small commission to this site (which helps support the cost of providing it).
• James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
• Christopher Benfey. Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival
• H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger, Friday Night Lights (and do watch the wonderful five-season TV series on Netflix streaming). Also by Bissinger: A Prayer for the City
• Katherine Boo. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity
• Jim Bouton. Ball Four
• Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down
• Chandler Burr, The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession
• Truman Capote, In Cold Blood. Do read George Plimpton's interview with Capote, The Story Behind a Nonfiction Novel (New York Times 1-16-66). This "nonfiction novel" -- a fascinating true crime story -- helped start the narrative nonfiction trend, but has also been criticized as dishonest. See especially Capote Classic 'In Cold Blood' Tainted by Long-Lost Files (Kevin Helliker, Wall Street Journal, 2-8-13).
• Robert Caro, The Power Broker:Robert Moses and the Fall of New York; The Years of LBJ: The Path to Power, Means of Ascent, and Master of the Senate
• Jung Chang.Wild Swans
• Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
• Ted Conover, Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing. Read (In the Belly of the Beast (Norman Oder's interview with Conover)
• Richard Ben Cramer, What It Takes
• Dave Cullen. Columbine (a chilling account of what really happened at Columbine)
• Joan Didion, Where I Was From; Salvador (Edward Humes: "A thin book that captures the essence of the beauty and futility of a nation at war with itself"); The White Album
• Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (You can download the book free at the Gutenberg Project: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/23)
• Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures
• Finkel, David. The Good Soldiers. Read this Nieman Storyboard interview with Finkel and Wikileaks video showing an incident he describes in the book.
• Isabel Fonseca, Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey
• Jon Franklin, Alan Doelp, Shock-Trauma
• Laurie Garrett, The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance
• Atul Gawande, Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science
• Doris Kearns Goodwin, Wait Till Next Year
• Philip Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with our Families: Stories from Rwanda
• Melissa Fay Greene, Praying for Sheetrock; The Temple Bombing
• Alma Guillermoprieto, The Heart That Bleeds: Latin America Now
• David Halberstam, Firehouse; The Teammates; The Best and the Brightest
• Jonathan Harr, A Civil Action
• Walt Harrington, At the Heart of It, The Everlasting Stream
• Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
• Paul Hendrickson, Looking for the Light
• Michael Herr, Dispatches (a revealing look at and from the Vietnam War -- still relevant today)
• John Hersey, Hiroshima (the 1946 classic about the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima)
• Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit
• Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
• Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding
• Pico Iyer, Sun After Dark: Flights into the Foreign
• Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm
• Jack Kerouac, On the Road
• Tracy Kidder, Among School Children (exemplary immersion journalism), The Soul Of A New Machine, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, Strength in What Remains, others
• Jamaica Kincaid, Talk Stories
• Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven, others
• Mark Kramer, Three Farms: Making Milk, Meat, and Money from the American Soil
• Erik Larson, Isaac’s Storm; The Devil in the White City; and In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
• Adrian LeBlanc, Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx
• Nicholas Lemann, Promised Land; The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy
• Michael Lewis, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
• Steve Lopez, The Soloist: A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music
• Norman Mailer, The Executioner’s Song (1979, the Gary Gilmore story-plus, "an absolutely astonishing book," in Joan Didion's view), The Armies of the Night
• Adam Makos with Larry Alexander. A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II. Listen to interview on Diane Rehm show.
• Ruben Martinez, Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail
• Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes
• John McPhee, Basin and Range; Coming into the Country; The Pine Barrens; The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed; Encounters with the Archdruid; The John McPhee Reader, many others
• Andrew Meier. The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin's Secret Service
• Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Old Hotel (short pieces from the New Yorker)
• N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain
• Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory
• Haruki Murakami. Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche
• Sonia Nazario, Enrique's Journey:The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother
• Tim O'Brien.The Things They Carried (labeled "fiction," this is part short story, part memoir -- what one reader calls "biomythography," using Audre Lord's term -- but often mentioned in discussions of narrative nonfiction)
• Susan Orlean, The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People
• George Plimpton. Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback (early example of immersion reporting)
• Samantha Power, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide
• Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. The Monster of Florence
• Richard Preston, The Hot Zone
• Marc Reisner. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water
• David Remnick. King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero
• Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb; Looking for America
• Andrew Rice. The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda
• Richard Rodriguez, Brown: The Last Discovery of America
• Lillian Ross, Reporting (short pieces from the New Yorker); Portrait of Hemingway
• P.J. O’Rourke, Holidays in Hell
• Mike Royko, One More Time (short pieces)
• Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic
• Hampton Sides. Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West
• Barry Siegel, Actual Innocence
• Gary Smith, Beyond the Game: The Collected Sportswriting of Gary Smith (short pieces)
• Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago
• Gay Talese, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” (included in The Gay Talese Reader: Portraits and Encounters), The Kingdom and the Power
• James B. Stewart, Den of Thieves
• Hunter Thompson, Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hell’s Angels
• Jeffrey Toobin, A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President
• Calvin Trillin, Remembering Denny
• Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August
• Luis Alberto Urrea, The Devil's Highway:A True Story
• Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon
• Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman
• Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff (Edward Humes writes that "this definitive, biting, dramatic and revealing story of the birth of the U.S. space program puts the reader there, in every way. A penultimate work of literary journalism."
• Zuckoff, Mitchell. Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II
• Short Takes: Brief Encounters with Contemporary Nonfiction
, ed. by Judith Kitchen (excellent examples for creative nonfiction workshops)
• Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to the Present
, ed. by Lex Williford and Michael Martone. From memoir to journalism, personal essays to cultural criticism, this anthology brings together works from all genres of creative nonfiction, with pieces by 50 contemporary writers, including Cheryl Strayed, David Sedaris, Barbara Kingsolver.
• In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal
, ed. by Mary Paumier Jones and Judith Kitchen
• In Short: A Collection of Brief Creative Nonfiction
ed. by Mary Paumier Jones and Judith Kitchen
• The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teachers
, ed Dinty W. Moore
. The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present
, ed. by Phillip Lopate. Two collections of Lopate's essays: Against Joie de Vivre: Personal Essays
and Bachelorhood: Tales of the Metropolis
. Among notes students of his memoir classes (in this case Roger Martin) have taken: To turn yourself (your “I”) into a character, distance from yourself. To give “I” a meaning requires building the self into a character. People must be knowledgeable enough about themselves, and free-willed enough, to surprise us. See also
• Writing the Personal Essay
(by Adair Lara)
• Essay and Memoir: writing about what changed you
(by Adair Lara)
• Between Song and Story: Essays for the Twenty-first Century
, ed. Sheryl St Germain and Margaret Whitford (46 writers explore the range of the contemporary essay)
Journals and sites that feature narrative nonfiction and long-form journalism
• Atlantic Monthly
(publishes great narrative nonfiction pieces)
, a literary journal
, a journal of concise literary nonfiction--well-known and emerging writers working in the extremely brief (750 words or less) essay form. ("Brief nonfiction requires an alertness to detail, a quickening of the senses, a focusing of the literary lens ... until one has magnified some small aspect of what it means to be human. ~ Bernard Cooper)
(long-form narrative nonficton, old and new). See A discovery engine for narrative nonfiction: Byliner.com launches with high hopes and a sleek site
(Lois Beckett, Nieman Journalism Lab
• Creative Nonfiction
• Esquire Magazine
(and this link takes you to what the magazine billed its seven greatest stories)
, a journal of literary nonfiction
• Georgia Review
(small group at St. Petersburg Times, prolonging the life of print journalism, described by Word on the Street as Gangrey.com: Keeping Good Writing Alive
(UK literary magazine "the magazine of new writing"
(sports stories even non-sports-lovers may enjoy
• The Guardian's 'The Long Good Read'
(articles hand picked twice daily from the Guardian)
• Kindle Singles: A lifeline for the long short read
(Kate Carraway, Globe and Mail, 2-18-12). "Jon Krakauer, of Into Thin Air
fame, contributed a Single (via Byliner
, a publishing company that only deals with work meant for Singles and others like it, such as Quick Reads and NOOK Snaps
), called Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way
, which serves as a 75-page extended rant for Krakauer; a fresh, big-bite-sized piece for his gigantic readership, and an A-list journo to validate Amazon’s project, just a few months in.
• Lapham's Quarterly
(a magazine of history and ideas)
(sponsored by Pitt Writers, new and classic nonfiction articles, curated from across the Web)
. Matter’s Vision for Long-Form Journalism
(Felix Salmon, Epicenter, Wired.com 2-24-12). Matter made its $50,000 goal in 38 hours, on Kickstarter
, the magazine, cousin of the Mayborn Conference
• Mountain Home Magazine
, Michael Capuzzo's free newsprint Pennsylvania magazine, which is gaining readers through good storytelling combined with good illustrations
• Narrative Magazine
(local stories courageously told--a different theme is chosen each week and each day one in-depth local story on that theme is published, about noncelebrities, taking advantage of the multimedia advantages of Internet storytelling.
• Narrative Matters
(Health Affairs), publishes "policy narratives," which take a story (or anecdote) and grow it beyond one person to include a big-picture view of the subject, the idea being to put a human face on policy discussions elsewhere in Health Affairs.
• New York Times Magazine
• The New Yorker
, award-winning poetry, fiction, essays and memoirs
(active-lifestyle and adventure-travel magazine)
(journalism in the public interest)
• Pulse: Voices from the heart of medicine
(catch up on these engrossing stories by reading the anthology: Pulse - The First Year
, or check Back Pages for Stories, Poems, Haiku, or Visuals.
• River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative
(Where Good Writing Counts and Facts Matter) and the River Teeth blog
. "Somebody tells you a story, let's say, and afterward, you ask,'Is it true?' And if the answer matters, you've got your answer." -- Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried
• Soundprint (radio)
(the aural equivalent of photojournalism -- the evocative experiential documentary)
• Sports Illustrated
• The Sun
(Personal. Political. Provocative. Ad-free.)
• Texas Review
seeks 1) excellent familiar essays about writers, writing, and literary culture in general; 2) compelling personal narratives, especially memoir and travel writing; 3) innovative creative nonfiction that pushes the boundaries of the genre.
• Tiny Lights
(a journey of personal narrative -- holds an annual essay contest, offering $1300 in prizes)
• Vanity Fair
E-singles, e-shorts, long-form journalism, and "read later" bookmarking systems
• $2 a Word? Chump Change! With Byliner and Atavist, Hungry Freelance Writers Seek Out Alternatives To Magazine Work
(Emily Witt, New York Observer, 9-13-11). With nonfiction novellas in electronic ink, magazines mimic boutique models of Byliner, Atavist
• An Author’s Guide to the E-Singles Scene
(Mark Obbie, ASJA's The Word blog, 2-27-13)
• Archive of informative stories about e-singles
(paidContent), especially Why 2012 was the year of the e-single
(Laura Hazard Owen--follow her on Twitter)
. See also Laura's How Much Do Kindle Singles Authors Make?
and Our Guide To E-Singles
(also paidContent). With thanks to Mark Obbie's page of resources on E-singles
• Atavist Co-Founder Evan Ratliff On Digital Content Models
(Bill Mickey, Folio, 3-21-13)
• Evan Ratliff of The Atavist on the shift to device-agnostic reading
(Justin Ellis, Monday Q&A, Nieman Journalism Lab, 9-10-12). The ebook platform is moving into direct sales and exploring a subscription model.
• Amazon Kindle Singles
. See also Kindle Singles submissions policy
and Amazon Broadens Its Terrain
(Leslie Kaufman, NY Times Books, 4-22-13). Editing Kindle Singles, David Blum jump-starts his career, with a Web service that is helping to promote a renaissance of novella-length journalism and fiction, known as e-shorts. Examples include God's Nobodies
by Mark Obbie and Guns
(Stephen King on gun control) and Second Son
(by thriller writer Lee Child, a Kindle Single bestseller)
•• The Atavist
(a storytelling platform for the digital age, enabling original multimedia-enhanced nonfiction stories somewhere between an extended magazine article and a book --publishing original nonfiction and narrative journalism for digital devices like the iPad, iPhone, Kindle, and Nook). Read Long-Form Journalism Finds a Home
(David Carr, NY Times, 3-27-2011) and The Atavist: How Multimedia Should Be Done in Digital Magazines
(Richard McManus, ReadWriteWeb 6-10-11) and Maturing as Publisher and Platform
(David Carr, NY Times 5-20-12) and Journalism: Done The Atavist Way
(David Wolman, Nieman Reports, Winter 2011). "‘… I liked the idea of being part of something new and something that attempts to reinvigorate the field of long-form journalism by re-engineering the business model that pays for it' writes Wolman. See Atavist catalog
and FAQs about Atavist and Creativist
. Creativist is Atavist's Web-based storytelling platform, on which you can tell your own story, using text, video, audio, and more--you can offer your stories on the Creativist app.
• The Browser
(Writing Worth Reading -- a daily selection of the best features, comment and analysis articles from around the web, plus their own FiveBooks interviews, videos, quotes and more)
(its "Read It Later" system saves an article for future reading and catalogs your wants). Adam Clarke Estes calls it "a socially enabled, editor-curated depository of nearly 30,000 long reads" in an Atlantic story (Byliner: The Pandora of Nonfiction Reading
, 6-21-11). A site for discovering and sharing old and new worlds of nonfiction. See also A discovery engine for narrative nonfiction: Byliner.com launches with high hopes and a sleek site
(Lois Beckett, Nieman Journalism Lab, 6-21-11): "It’s a nonfiction nerd’s fantasy: a database of nearly 30,000 feature stories, meticulously organized, sleekly presented, and fully searchable — by author, by publication, by topic." "has the “follow me down the rabbit hole” appeal of Wikipedia (one page leads to another, and suddenly you’ve spent an hour on the site), paired with the ambience of a gentleman’s club: elegant design, good service, a certain tone — like the rustle of electronic pages as Serious People Read." It was conceived as a subsidiary to a publishing platform for long-form journalism, Byliner Originals
. See catalog of Byliner originals
and writer inquiries and FAQs
and reader FAQs
. One writer's story: It’s a Long Article. It’s a Short Book. No, It’s a Byliner E-Book.
(John Tayman, Nieman Reports). Byliner published Jon Krakauer's "Three Cups of Deceit" (an exposé of Greg Mortensen's Three Cups of Tea). ‘Our idea was to create a new way for writers to be able to tell stories at what had always been considered a financially awkward length.’
(both writing and podcasts, a site run by young Ben Montgomery of the Tampa News)
(Arianna's new tablet magazine for iPad, "looking to court a higher-end audience willing to pay for weekly, longform journalism"--according to Justin Ellis, The aggregator builds a magazine: The Huffington Post slows itself down with Huffington
(Nieman Journalism Lab, 6-14-12). See also The Newsonomics of the shiny, new wrapper
(Ken Doctor, Nieman Journalism Lab, 6-21-12). "Publishers are getting more aggressive about repackaging their work into ebooks, iPad magazines, and other new forms, in the hopes of creating something readers will pay for."
(Nieman Stories on Pinterest
. Great stories clipped there but you have to belong to Pinterest to read them, it seems.
(not quite a magazine, a website, or a publisher -- a venue for selling/buying pieces of long-form journalism about technology, medicine, the environment and science and the social and cultural worlds surrounding them, for consumption on any device). See Evan Williams’ Medium acquires long-form journalism site Matter
and Kickstarter-backed journalism startup Matter publishes its first story
(both by Laura Hazard Owen, paidContent).
, praised for its UI and UX (user experience and user interface). Here's one story: The Queer Case of Luke O’Donovan
(Meredith Talusan, 9-17-14) O'Donovan is in jail for stabbing five men who beat him and used homophobic slurs. Was it self-defense, or community justice? (Also about objectivity in reporting.)
• Notable Narratives
(Nieman Storyboard, with commentary on the stories)
Read It Later apps for, and online aggregators of, long-form stories:
• A Code of Conduct for Content Aggregators
(David Carr, NY Times, 3-11-12)
("a simple tool to save web pages for reading later" -- gives you a Read Later bookmark)
. See Longreads: A Digital Renaissance for the Long-form?
(David Carr, NY Times, 1-3-11)
, covered by David Carr in the Times (Longreads: A Digital Renaissance for the Long-form?
Read, for example, A Fish Story
by Alison Fairbrother (Washington Monthly, May/June 2012). How an angler and two government bureaucrats may have saved the Atlantic Ocean. The political battle over the disappearance of the menhaden, a silvery, six-inch fish that's food for larger fish and farmed for omega-3 oils and fertilizer.
• UI / UX Design Interviews
Talking with User Interface & User Experience Designers, collection edited by Frank Rapacciuolo, for medium.com)
(one reading list, wherever you are)
Other storytelling venues
include live storytelling such as The Moth
(scroll down) and digital and radio storytelling, such as This American Life
(see more links below).
Reading these stories is like taking a free workshop in audio narration.
Thanks to Nieman Storyboard ("breaking down story in every medium") for its
excellent articles, links, and analyses of great stories.
• Audio danger: stories from the edge of listening
(Julia Barton in the first of several posts in 2012 focused on developments in and examples from the world of audio narratives, Nieman Storyboard 1-4-12). "Writers and video producers live in dread of the wandering eye. Audio producers live for it." (They want to keep us stuck in our cars, listening for the end of the story. And they do! I am often sitting like a dope listening to my radio in the parking lot.)
Your Brain on Story: Why Narratives Win Our Hearts and Minds
(Michele Wheldon, Pacific-Standard, 4-22-14) “The power of anecdote is so great that it has a momentum in and of itself.” Ira Glass contends, “no matter how boring the facts are,” with a well-told story, “you feel inherently as if you are on a train that has a destination.”
• Audio danger: NPR’s Kelly McEvers on trauma and the calculus of risk
. (Julia Barton, Nieman Storyboard, 2-3-12). Stories like the one described here "are one way to slice through the obstacle of listener confusion (and, let’s face it, indifference) when it comes to reports from abroad. "I try to make those personal stories have a larger point, but just to reach that point through personal narratives. People in Dubuque are going to remember that more than a talking head,' McEvers says." Reporters like McEvers are rewarded for doing the wrong thing.
• NPR’s Daniel Zwerdling on golden radio, Yoda parallels and the Robert Krulwich moment
(Julia Barton, Nieman Storyboard, 2-3-12, presents Danny Z's excellent tips on interviewing and editing, with links to excellent examples).
• How to submit story ideas to "This American Life,"
and here are four pitches
for stories that made it to the show.
• Audio danger: transgressive voices
(Julia Barton, Nieman Storyboard, 3-15-12, on shows that don't quite fit the mold--weird radio)
• Story, interrupted: why we need new approaches to digital narrative
(Pedro Monteiro, Nieman Narrative 9-8-11). How we need to explore ways to use new digital platforms to enrich narrative with supplementary text, pictures, maps, videos, interactive activities involving the reader/listener, etc. -- and who is doing so.
• Public Radio International’s Lisa Mullins on interviewing for story
. Some craft tips for pulling narrative from daily news Q-and-A’s. "A lot of the fear in interviews happens when the interviewee doesn’t know if he or she is giving you want you want," She tells them before the interview what she might want, then she teases them along and directs them--they get involved in building the story.
• Interview as story: on radio, online and in print
More on interviewing as story. "Whether they use full-on storytelling or just crib a few literary devices, interviews have their own narrative arcs and angles. From political drama (think the Frost-Nixon standoff or “The Fog of War”) to Studs Terkel’s cultural layering, interviews create a kind of permanent present-tense experience for viewers."
Scroll further for links to good venues for digital and radio storytelling
(Human stories, courageously told)
(a NY Times op-doc), an op-documentary about a neuroscience doctor, John Kitchin, 69 who realized life was a forced trudge making him miserable. He decided to completely reinvent himself and now is known as Slomo and lives out his life skating at the beach.
• Snow Fall: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek
(video), part of a multimedia piece
(John Branch, NY Times, 12-21-12 ), a harrowing story of skiers caught in an avalanche.
• The Core of Story
(Erin Polgreen, Nieman Reports, Spring 2014) How comics can enhance reader engagement and bring new audiences to narrative nonfiction
• Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt
(by Kainaz Ameria and a team from National Public Radio)
• Would You Stay? Life After Chernobyl and Fukushima
by Michael Forster Rothbart and ZUMA Press
• The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie
On the trail of the phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace. By John Jeremiah Sullivan; photos and video by Leslye Davis; production by Tom Giratikanon.
• The Jockey
(article and narration by Barry Bearak, images by Chang W. Lee). Russell Baze is the winningest jockey in American history. Yet his name is familiar to only the most avid followers of horse racing.
• New York Times Wins NPPA's Best Use Of Multimedia
(Donald R. Winslow, National Press Photographers Association, the voice of visual journalists, 3-24-14). Links to prize-winning examples of multimedia journalism).
• The 'Snowfall' Effect and Dissecting the Multimedia Longform Narrative
(Jeremy Rue, Multimedia Shooter, 4-21-13). Apropos Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek
(John Branch, part of a multimedia piece, NY Times, 12-21-12)
• The importance of words in multimedia storytelling
(Jacquie Marino, Nieman storyboard)
• Beyond the "Like" Button: Digitally Addictive Storytelling and the Brain
(Amy O’Leary, a news editor and multimedia producer for The New York Times)'
• Interactive Narratives
(multimedia storytelling, sponsored by Online News Association)
(exemplary online multimedia narrative) [Back to Top]
Live Storytelling Venues
Where to hear, tell, and read good stories
and a few links to or about applied, organizational, and professional storytelling
· Online venues for narrative nonfiction
· The Moth
· Other venues for stories told aloud to a live audience
· Digital and radio storytelling
• Spot.Us, Byliner, Atavist Are Showing Freelance Writers the Money
(David Cohn, Idea Lab, 6-8-11). "I think gigs or "gigging" will be the way freelancers turn their practice into a career in the future. Instead of pitching story to story, you'll be working project to project or gig to gig. And that means reporters who work on projects will need representation." Among places to be spotted:
• The Atavist
. Read also Literary journalism finds new platforms
by David L. Ulin (L.A. Times 5-15-11). "Byliner, the Atavist and Virginia Quarterly Review take the form into the future."
. Read also Will Byliner Save Longform Journalism?
(Elana Zak, New Media Bistro 5-12-11)
. Aggregates (links to) the best long-form stories on the web. See its Community Picks
("Freelancers: Discover Entrepreneurial Journalism. Showcase your work, bringing editors to you. Sell your original work to publishers a la carte."
("welcome to the future of content syndication")
(voices from the heart of medicine). (Read Los Angeles Times story: When overwhelmed by health policy, take the Pulse of the profession
• Periodicals and sites that feature narrative nonfiction (a/k/a creative nonfiction)
• Corporate and organizational storytelling
(links to excellent material on the subject)
• Acts of Witness
(Ochberg Society, inviting short, personal essays by reporters and photographers about hurt they experience reporting on trauma, conflict, and human rights violations)
• Folklore and Mythology
• Aesop's Fables
(Harvard Classics, Bartleby.cm) [Back to Top]
The Moth was born in small-town Georgia, garnered a cult following in New York City, and then rose to national acclaim with the wildly popular podcast and Peabody Award–winning weekly public radio show The Moth Radio Hour.
• The Moth
(True Stories Told Live).
• The Moth Radio Hour
(PRX, listen here
• The Moth
(events at different venues)
• Molly Ringwald: 'For the first time in my life, I found myself consumed by stage fright'
(The Guardian, 8-8-14) Despite acting since she was three, bratpacker Molly Ringwald was daunted when asked to tell a deeply personal story live on stage. She explains how hip New York storytelling group The Moth persuaded her, and why you should see them in London
• Neil Gaiman: why I'm scared of telling stories… and why I love The Moth
(Guardian, 8-8-14) "The strange thing about these stories is that none of the tricks we use to gain love and respect work. The tales of how clever we were, how wise, how we won, mostly fail. The practised jokes and witty one-liners crash and burn. Honesty matters. Vulnerability matters. Having a place where the story starts and a place it's going is also important."
THE MOTH STORYTELLING SPECIAL (Read online in THE GUARDIAN)
• Sir Paul Nurse: 'I looked at my birth certificate. That was not my mother's name'
(The Guardian, 8-8-14). The Nobel prize-winning geneticist revealed his biggest family secret
• How I told my brother I was now a woman… at my father's funeral
(Kimberly Reed, The Guardian, 8-8-14) Reed recalled how her father's death forced her to reveal her gender reorientation to her brother, her home town and her high school football team
• How I accidentally shot and killed my best friend
(Kemp Powers, The Guardian, 8-8-14)
• A Mormon's guide to dating
(Elna Baker, The Guardian, 8-8-14)
• Malcolm Gladwell: how I ruined my best friend's wedding
(Malcolm Gladwell, The Guardian 8-8-14)
• Read the whole collection in The Moth
, ed. by Catherine Burns[Back to Top]
• Back Fence PDX
(Portland, Oregon-- seven performers tell true, original, unmemorized, ten-minute stories suited to the evening's theme)
(San Francisco's Storytelling Series, akin to The Moth)
• National Storytelling Network
("We Grow Storytellers"), which hosts a National Storytelling Conference and has other resources, including a Directory of Storytellers and articles such as How to Become a Storyteller
(for telling stories to an audience)
• 100 Storied Careers
(Q&As with 100 professional storytellers, Kathy Hansen, A Storied Career)
• Network of Biblical Storytellers
• League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling (LANES)
• The Stoop
• Storytelling Guilds and Organizations, by State
. See NSN's links to resources
• Storytelling Links
• Storytelling: It's News
(links to stories about storytelling, by National Storytelling Network)
(nonprofit arts organization, giving voice to people's life experiences, in Washington DC)
• Storytelling Associations
(links, open directory project)
• Worldwide Story Network
(a Facebook community of story practitioners who apply story-based techniques in organizational settings) [Back to Top]
• Association of Independents in Radio (AIR)
• Art Of Storytelling Alive And Well In Audio Books
(Lynn Neary, Morning Edition, NPR 11-16-10). Audio books as part of a long tradition of oral storytelling, except instead of sitting in a cave listening the tribe may be driving SUVs
• Can We Humanize the Web?
New sites, such as Cowbird, aim for story-telling that connects us. (Wall Street Journal, Marvels, 12-31-11)
• Center for Digital Storytelling
(a new form of participatory journalism, grounded in the simple human stories behind major news events and universal themes--see, for example, The Occupy Saga
("On Sept. 17, 2011, a handful of people set up camp in Zuccoti Park and called for others to join them. This is their story.")
• The Transformation of NPR
(Jennifer Dorroh, American Journalism Review Oct/Nov 2008). Long defined by its radio programming, National Public Radio is reinventing itself as a multiplatform force
• Fresh Air
(Terry Gross's in-depth interviews, WHYY)
• A Prairie Home Companion
(a live radio variety show hosted by Garrison Keillor, Minnesota Public Radio, stories and more)
• Radio Lab
, with Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, is a radio show and podcast weaving stories and science into sound and music-rich documentaries
• Snap Judgment
,a themed, weekly NPR storytelling show that presents compelling personal stories
. This site (combining journalism and social media) lets you create stories using social media, dragging and dropping in narrative order tweets, photos, videos, comments, snippets, etc. Read What Is Storify And Why Did They Raise $2m?
. Here's Storify story of the year 2011: Tracking Journalist Arrests at Occupy Protests Around the Country
• The Story
(North Carolina Public Radio, American Public Media)
• Story Salon
(Salon.com and The Story)
• Tell Me More
• This American Life
(from WBEZ, hosted by Ira Glass). Start listening to one of these as you drive to buy groceries and you'll find yourself sitting in the parking lot, listening to hear the end of the story.
• Web of Stories
. Watch videos of famous scientists, authors, movie makers and artists telling their stories and be inspired to record and share your own.
• More great radio listening
(mostly NPR) [Back to Top]
Excellent online examples of narrative journalism
• You can find links to MANY excellent pieces of literary (narrative) journalism at the Nieman Storyboard site
, many examples from which I link to below. Nieman Storyboard has also provided links to all the Notable Narratives from the Nieman Narrative Digest for the years 2006 to 2010
• The 7 Greatest Stories in the History of Esquire Magazine... in Full
(as chosen by the magazine, 11-14-08, and with the magazine's descriptions):
• "The School"
by C.J. Chivers (June 2006) On the first day of school in 2004, a Chechen terrorist group struck the Russian town of Beslan. Targeting children, they took more than eleven hundred hostages. The attack represented a horrifying innovation in human brutality. Here, an extraordinary accounting of the experience of terror in the age of terrorism.
• "The Falling Man"
by Tom Junod (Sept. 8, 2009) Do you remember this photograph? In the United States, people have taken pains to banish it from the record of September 11, 2001. The story behind it, though, and the search for the man pictured in it, are our most intimate connection to the horror of that day.
• "What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?"
by Richard Ben Cramer (June 1986) Regarded as perhaps the finest piece of sportswriting on record, the furious saga of Teddy Ballgame — from boy to man and near death — is an unmatchable remembrance for an American icon.
• "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold"
by Gay Talese (April 1966) "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold" ran in April 1966 and became one of the most celebrated magazine stories ever published, a pioneering example of what came to be called New Journalism -- a work of rigorously faithful fact enlivened with the kind of vivid storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction.
by John Sack (October 1966). Memorable for its famous cover line ("Oh my God--we hit a little girl."), this legendary account of one company of American soldiers in Fort Dix, New Jersey, who trained for war and who found it in South Vietnam fifty days later.
• "The Last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Yes!"
by Tom Wolfe (March 1965) Now one of America's most legendary authors, Tom Wolfe broke out onto the national literary scene at age thirty-four with this breathless piece — an early step in the so-called New Journalism, a first reference for the term "good ol' boy," a deep breath into the future of the New South.
• "Superman Comes to the Supermarket"
by Norman Mailer (November 1960) In November 1960, Norman Mailer first tried his hand at a genre that would come to define his career. This is Mailer's debut into the world of political journalism, a sprawling classic examining John F. Kennedy.
Allen, Scott. Critical Care: The Making of an ICU Nurse
(a four-part series in the Boston Globe, October 2005)
• Dan Barry,Donna's Diner. This Land: Elyria, Ohio--At the Corner of Hope and Worry
(that first link is to video, with Donna and regulars talking in the diner) (NY Times, 10-13-12). The story is told in five parts: • 1. Donna's Diner
, • 2: Elyrian Landscape: New Mayor, Big To-Do List
, • 3. Elyria Then, Elyria Now: After a Childhood Pouring Refills, Reaching Beyond the Past
, • 4. Never-Ending Conversation: In the Hard Fall of a Favorite Son, a Reminder of a City’s Scars
, and • With a New Menu and a Makeover, a Promise to Keep Going
Moni Basu. Chaplain Turner's War
(8-part series, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6-22-08). Compelled to serve where the suffering was greatest, he headed to Iraq. He has already lost 14 men. What will become of the rest of his flock?
Barry Bearake, The Day the Sea Came
, Part 1 of a long feature about the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, which David Hayes cites as an example, like John Hersey's Hiroshima
, of parallel structure: a number of characters and a single event. Go here for Part 2
Kelley Benham. Never Let Go
(three-part series, by Kelley Benham, Tampa Bay Times, 12-9-12). Micro preemie parents decide: Fight or let go of their extremely premature baby? Part 1 Lost and Found
. When a baby is born at the edge of viability, which is the greater act of love: to save her, or to say goodbye? Part 2, The Zero Zone
In a neverland of sick babies, the NICU is a place where there is no future or past. Every moment is a fight for existence.; and Part 3, Calculating the Value of a Life
. Read about the story: Notable Narrative: What Nieman Storyboard loved about this series.
John Biewen. Married to the Military
(American RadioWorks, listen to hour-long radio program or read the transcript)
John Branch. Snow Fall: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek
(video), part of a multimedia piece
(NY Times, 12-21-12 ), a harrowing story of skiers caught in an avalanche.
Ian Brown, The Boy in the Moon
(Globe & Mail series available online). Brown's memoir about his relationship with his son, Walker, born with a rare genetic disorder that leaves him profoundly developmentally disabled. In book form, The Boy in the Moon: A Father's Search for His Disabled Son
is available at a reasonable price through Amazon Canada
Janet Burroway. Life After Tim
(St. Petersburg Times, 12-12-04). Tim shot himself dead after returning from Iraq. His mother Janet Burroway reflects on the life of “a fiercely honourable boy.”
Janet Burroway. My son, my soldier, my sorrow
(St. Petersburg Times, 6-13-04). In three essays written over 20 years, a liberal, pacifist mother struggles to understand her conservative son, a proud soldier and member of the NRA.
Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin. Scientology: The Truth Rundown, Part 1 of a special three-part report on the Church of Scientology
(St. Petersburg Times, 6-21-09).
Roy Peter Clark. Amazing Grace in the Men's Room
(Sunday Journal, St. Petersburg Times, 9-30-07)
Roy Peter Clark. "Three Little Words" (series that ran in the St. Petersburg Times over 29 days in 1996)
. "Clark worked for two years to piece together this intensely personal family history. Set in the time of AIDS, "Three Little Words" is a tale of trust, betrayal and redemption. The story, which unfolded here and on the pages of the St. Petersburg Times over 29 days, challenges us to reconsider our thoughts about marriage, privacy, public health and sexual identity."
Dudley Clendenin. The Good Short Life
(Opinion piece, Sunday Review, The New York Times 7-9-11). Living with Lou Gehrig's disease is about life, when you know there's not much left, writes Clendenin, who plans to end his life before ALS prevents him from doing so. Nieman Storyboard has an interesting Editors' Roundtable: The New York Times on facing death
as well as an interview with the author: Dudley Clendinen on building stories from life and choosing grace in death: “I don’t quibble with fate”
Pamela Coloff. The Innocent Man, Part One
and Part Two
. During the 25 years that Michael Morton spent wrongfully imprisoned for murdering his wife, he kept three things in mind: Someday he would prove his innocence to their son. Someday he would find out who had killed her. And someday he would understand how this had happened to him.
Joanna Connors. Beyond Rape: A Survivor's Story
(The Cleveland Plain Dealer 5-4-08). Connors investigates her own 1984 rape and reports on it in a story that is part personal essay, part long-form journalism. "We tell stories to connect with each other. We tell our own stories -- sometimes just to ourselves -- to make sense of the world and our experience in it," she writes in part 3. "As a reader and a writer, I believe in the power of stories to bring us together and heal. I have asked so many other people to open themselves up and let me tell their stories, all the while withholding my own. I owed this to them."\
Andrea Curtis. Small Mercies
(Toronto Life, December 2005). He was born at three and a half pounds, the length of a squirrel, with no eyelashes or toenails, and pencil-thin legs poking out of a diaper that covered almost his entire torso. He was too small to eat or breath on his own. Too fragile even to be held. Discussed by Bruce Gillespie, Why's this so good?
(Nieman Storyboard, 1-24-12): "a textbook example of how to pace a story for maximum reader engagement that is sure to keep you glued to the page until the very last word."
Thomas Curwen. Ana's Story: Isolated by her appearance, she yearned for a place in the world
(two-part series in the Los Angeles Times about how facial reconstruction may change the life of Ana Rodarte, whose life has been defined by facial disfigurement caused by neurofibromatosis, 4-4-09)
Lane DeGregory and Melissa Lyttle. The Girl in the Window
(St. Petersburg Times, 7-31-08). The 'Plant City police found a girl lying in her roach-infested room, naked except for an overflowing diaper. The child, pale and skeletal, communicated only through grunts. She was almost 7 years old." The story of Danielle, a feral child, deprived of her humanity by a lack of nurturing. With a follow-up story by Lane DeGregory: Three years later, 'The Girl in the Window' learns to connect
Sheri Fink's story (in two venues, with different titles): The Deadly Choices at Memorial
(ProPublica, journalism in the public interest, 8-24-09); Strained by Katrina, a Hospital Faced Deadly Choices
(New York Times Magazine, 8-25-09); and the story about the story: An extremely expensive cover story — with a new way of footing the bill
by Zachary M. Seward, Nieman Journalism Lab (a collaborative attempt to figure out how quality journalism can survive and thrive in the Internet age). Also of interest: The Deadly Choices at Memorial
(letters in response to the Times story).
David Finkel's Pulitzer Prize-winning series, for "explanatory journalism," Exporting Democracy
(about U.S. efforts to bring democracy to Yemen).
FiveThirtyEight: Nate Silver's Political Calculus
(New York Times blog), the first blog Nieman Narrative selected as a Notable Narrative.
Brent Foster and Poul Madsen, Nobody deserves this Hell Hole: Jharia's fiery mines
(The Globe and Mail, 5-8-09, with a story that multimedia greatly improves)
Jon Franklin. Mrs. Kelly's Monster
(Baltimore Sun, 1979) won the first Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. On Nieman Storyboard's Line by Line
, Franklin takes us line by line through his narrative classic, a model of pacing and detail and character.
Thomas French, Angels & Demons
(this story in St. Petersburg Times won 1998 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, for his detailed and compassionate narrative portrait of a mother and two daughters slain on a Florida vacation, and the three-year investigation into their murders)
Thomas French, Zoo Story. Life. Death. The Paradox of Freedom.
(a special, outstanding nine-part series in the St. Petersburg Times, 12-2-07)
Stephen Fried, Cradle to Grave (Part 1)
and Part 2
(Philadelphia Magazine, 1-17-08). In the 1960s, a local couple became the most famous bereaved parents in America, as their infants died one after another. This Philadelphia Magazine investigation revealed the deaths were indeed tragic, but perhaps not unexplainable.
Stephen Friedman. Bret, Unbroken
(Runner's World, June 2013--a moving story and a fine example of telling a story in second person). His brain and body shattered in a horrible accident as a young boy, Bret Dunlap thought just being able to hold down a job, keep an apartment, and survive on his own added up to a good enough life. Then he discovered running.
Atul Gawande. The Score: How Childbirth Went Industrial
(Annals of Medicine, The New Yorker, 10-9-06)
James Glanz. Alley Fighters
(New York Times, 3-30-08). In Shite Slums Victory Must Be Won in the Alleys -- an example of hard news told as first-person explanatory essay
Christopher Goffard. On the run from everything but each other
(Los Angeles Times 5-13-09), young love in flight, which Mark Johnson writes about in “Why’s this so good?”
(Nieman Storyboard 1-10-12)
Cynthia Gorney. Chicken-Soup Nation
(Annals of Publishing, New Yorker, 10-6-03).
David Grann. The Squid Hunter
(A Reporter at Large, The New Yorker, 5-24-04). Can Steve O’Shea capture the sea’s most elusive creature?
David Grann. The Chameleon
(Annals of Crime, The New Yorker, 8-11-08). The many lives of Frédéric Bourdin, a thirty-year-old Frenchman who serially impersonated children.
Tom Hallman Jr. The Boy Behind the Mask
(The Oregonian, 9-30-00). Received 2001 Pulitzer "for his poignant profile of a disfigured 14-year old boy who elects to have life-threatening surgery in an effort to improve his appearance")
Tom Hallman Jr. Fighting for life on Level 3
(Oregonian, Sept. 21-24, 2003). Hallman takes readers inside the ward where premature babies are tended. To cover this story, he had to first win over the hospital bureaucracy; he then spent nine months "immersion reporting." Wrote judges for a Missouri School of Journalism award for the series: "The reporting is outstanding; the writing is extraordinary. This is journalism at its highest level."
Meredith Hindley. When Bram Met Walt
(Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Nov/Dec 2012). When Bram Stoker (who went on to write Dracula) met Walt Whitman. (Thanks, Barry Yeoman, for pointing this story out.)
Jack Hitt. Radovan Karadzic’s New-Age Adventure
(NYTimes Magazine, 7-22-09)
Ann Hull and Sue Carlton. Another wild day in the battle over lap dancing
(St. Petersburg Times, 12-3-99). Hull and Carlton bring the courtroom to life by showing the parties involved, on both sides of a controversial local issue.
Dan Koeppel, How to Fall 35,000 Feet—And Survive
(Popular Mechanics, February 2010), with Nieman Storyboard's commentary on technique
Michael Kruse, A Brevard woman disappeared, but never left home
. How could a woman die a block from the beach, surrounded by her neighbors, and not be found for almost 16 months? Nieman Storyboard commentary: Exhuming a life (the lost history of Kathryn Norris)
Thomas Lake. The Way It Should Be
(Sports Illustrated, 6-29-09, the story of an athlete's singular gesture continues to inspire)
Mark Larabee. Clinging to Life—and Whatever Floats
(Oregonian, 12-12-07). A dogs-and-human rescue story.
Charlie LeDuff. Frozen in Indifference: Life goes on around body found in vacant warehouse
( Detroit News, 1-28-09)
The Last Empire: China's Pollution Problem Goes Global
(Jacques Leslie, Mother Jones, 12-10-07) Can the world survive China's headlong rush to emulate the American way of life? Leslie combines first-person narrative with straight essay-style writing in this piece.
Ben Montgomery, Waveney Ann Moore, and Edmund D. Fountain For Their Own Good
(St. Petersburg Times), a story of abuse at The Florida School for Boys, Florida's home for juvenile delinquents. A Nieman Notable Narrative
Michael J. Mooney. The Legend of Chris Kyle
(D Magazine, 3-18-13). The deadliest sniper in U.S. history performed near miracles on the battlefield. Then he had to come home.
Errol Morris. Did My Brother Invent E-Mail With Tom Van Vleck?
(The Opinionator, NY Times commentary, 6-19-11). A fascinating exchange between Errol Morris and Tom Van Vleck about the role Van Vleck and Noel Morris played in starting the Internet (part 1 of 5).
Mary Otto. Hidden Hurt
(Washington Post 11-9-08). Volunteer health care workers on a remote medical mission spend three days serving uninsured patients who flock to Appalachia for free medical care)
Sonia Nazario. Enrique's Journey
(six-part Los Angeles Times series that won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing, for "her touching, exhaustively reported story of a Honduran boy's perilous search for his mother who had migrated to the United States").
Kevin Pang. His Saving Grace
(Chicago Tribune). The kitchen became chef Curtis Duffy's escape from a turbulent childhood. How cooking rescued him and exacted a price. ("Cooking provided something lacking in Curtis, he’d later realize: a sense of ownership and control, an illustration of cause and effect. Get your hands in the dough, give a damn about something, and watch results bubbling from the oven 12 minutes later.")
Richard Read. The French Fry Connection
(Oregonian, 10-18-98). Following one globe-hopping load of Northwest potatoes reveals a lot about the world economic crisis (winner of 1999 Pulitzer for Explanatory Reporting). Brilliant use of narrative to explain economics.
Andrew Rice, The Fall of Niagara Falls
. Decades of decay, corruption, and failed get-rich-quick schemes have made the city one of the most intractable disasters in the U.S. Read an interview with Rice about the story on Nieman Storyboard
Eli Saslow, Life of a salesman: Selling success, when the American dream is downsized
(Washington Post, 10-7-12). This story about a Manassas, Va., swimming pool salesman experiencing the unraveling of his decades-long success story during a summer of disappointments received the first place award in the first Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest
sponsored by the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference.
Michael Shnayerson, Crimes of the Art?
(Vanity Fair, December 2010). Eight years after Larry Rivers’s death, Rivers is being accused of child pornography, for filming his adolescent daughters topless. Scnayerson asks whether the artist was shattering taboos or destroying innocence. See also Art or Abuse?
, discussion on Nieman Storyboard.
Vicki Smith. Slow Death: What happens to mill towns when industry moves on?
(Associated Press, 9-25-06, posted on Nieman StoryBoard)
John Jeremiah Sullivan. The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie
On the trail of the phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace. Photos and video by Leslye Davis, production by Tom Giratikanon.
Gay Talese. Frank Sinatra Has a Cold
(Esquire April 1966). "[O]ne of the most celebrated magazine stories ever published, a pioneering example of what came to be called New Journalism -- a work of rigorously faithful fact enlivened with the kind of vivid storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction." And an example of immersion reporting, particularly helpful when the subject refuses to be interviewed.
This American Life
(excellent radio narratives in Ira Glass's weekly one-hour show on WBEZ, Chicago, aired nationally through Public Radio International).
Stuart Tomlinson. After Devastating Car Wreck Right Before His Eyes, An Officer Reacts
(Oregonian, 10-13-04 -- discussed by Jack Hart in Storycraft
as an example of a standard news story presented as narrative nonfiction
Charles Van Doren. All the Answers
. The quiz-show scandals—and the aftermath (New Yorker 7-28-08)
What Made This University Researcher Snap?
(Amy Wallace, Wired, 2-28-11). A University of Alabama scientist gunned down six of her colleagues in 2010. Here's what made Amy Bishop snap. And here is Hazel Becker's fine account (Talking Shop
) of a session at the Excellence in Journalism
in which Amy Wallace and Mark Robinson, Wired's feature editor, talked about the behind-the-scenes work done to bring the piece to print: "Their presentation was interesting because it exposed the human sides of the two panelists – an accomplished freelancer who was scared to take on the project and an editor who put a lot on the line with his publication to get the story done."
Gene Weingarten, The Peekaboo Paradox
(WashPost 1-22-06), about the preschool entertainer, The Great Zucchini. Opinions vary on whether this is great or needs editing. Listen to Bob Edwards' radio interview with Weingarten
about this story and Weingarten's collection The Fiddler in the Subway: The Story of the World-Class Violinist Who Played for Handouts. . . And Other Virtuoso Performances by America's Foremost Feature Writer
Michael Weinreb on the Joe Paterno scandal. Growing Up Penn State
(Grantland 11-8-11). The end of idealizing sports heroes at State College.
Mary Wiltenburg. Little Bill Clinton: A School Year in the Life of a New American
(award winning series in Christian Science Monitor, 2008-2009). In Atlanta's northeastern suburbs, a refugee community is growing where almost every family is a story of Americans-in-the-making. DeKalb County's seven-year-old International Community School - a charter school - was founded to bring their children together with native-born kids in a community model that welcomes and celebrates student diversity. This school year, the Monitor is exploring this model through the eyes and experiences of Congolese third-grader Bill Clinton Hadam and the ICS community.
A "collaboration on the magic of long-form stories" (Nieman Storyboard pieces that explore what makes classic narrative nonfiction stories worth reading). From the archives:
• “Why’s this so good?” No. 56: Nora Ephron and the thing about breasts
(Wesley Morris on masterful hyperbole, 9-4-12)
• No. 58: Scott Anderson and the hunger warriors
(Brendan I. Koerner on the power pivot, 9-11-12). "[O]ne more example of Anderson’s talent for pivoting from hope to despair. The story’s kicker could not be any more plainspoken, or any more devastating."
• “Why’s this so good?” No. 1: Truman Capote keeps time with Marlon Brando
by Alexis Madrigal 6-27-11). Truman Capote’s profile of the depressive, incoherent, brilliant Marlon Brando is one of the greatest of all time. Published in 1957 in The New Yorker, it nominally takes place one evening in the Miyako Hotel in Kyoto. One could point out many things about craft in the piece. The descriptions of characters are finely observed and [...]
• McPhee takes on the Mississippi
by Carl Zimmer No. 2, 7-7-11). When the Mississippi River recently surged down through the middle of the country, a lot of people I follow on Twitter took the opportunity to point to John McPhee’s marvelous 1987 article “Atchafalaya.”I took their advice and revisited the piece. After 24 years, the story is still valuable simply as a guide to the risks faced by [...]
• André Aciman on the geography of longing
by Radhika Jones (No. 3, 7-12-11). André Aciman’s “Shadow Cities” comes out swinging. “On a late spring morning almost two years ago,” it begins, “while walking on Broadway, I suddenly noticed that something terrible had happened to Straus Park.”
• Heinz on Air Lift, son of Bold Venture
by Chris Jones (No. 4, 7-19-11). On a rainy afternoon in 1949, W.C. Heinz watched a beautiful young horse break its leg and then get shot in the head. And then he sat down and wrote about it for the readers of the New York Sun, ordinary men and women, commuters and shoeshine kids.
• Raymond Chandler sticks it to Hollywood
by Maud Newton (No. 5, 7-27-11). We tend now to think of Hollywood’s hackneyed, would-be blockbusters as a new phenomenon, one borne of desperation, unprecedented cynicism and the rise of narrative television. But Raymond Chandler’s wonderful 1945 essay-screed “Writers in Hollywood” reminds us that the motion picture industry was, by and large, as uninspired and ridiculous 65 years ago as it is today.
• Alma Guillermoprieto’s view on Bogota
by Jay Caspian Kang (No. 6, 8-3-11)
• Barry Siegel and the weight of consequences
by Deborah Blum (No. 7, 8-9-11)
• Why's this so good? archives
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