Eager students interested in writing crowded into the Humanities Instructional Building on May 11 awaiting the insightful knowledge of Mark Kramer who is currently a writer-in-residence and director of the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism at Harvard University.
Barry Siegel, event organizer, professor and director of the literary journalism department at UCI, expressed his high esteem for Kramer.
‘In his position as director of the Nieman Program, Mark has become one of the leading figures in the literary journalism field. I value that he is both an accomplished writer and teacher of literary journalism,’ Siegel said.
Prior to his position at Harvard University, Kramer taught for a decade at Boston University’s journalism and American studies departments. He is the author of nonfiction stories such as ‘Invasive Procedures’ and ‘Travels with a Hungry Bear.’
Kramer began his talk by addressing the characteristics of narrative journalism. He explained the important roles that scenes, characters and the voice of narrators play in a narrative.
Kramer also addressed the differences between a writer’s voice in narrative journalism and traditional news journalism.
‘In the world of news-voice, people are citizens, not characters, and they have civic traits such as addresses, ages, arrest records, voting district,’ Kramer said. ‘Narrative is about people doing stuff and, to some extent and in the right places, much reach past civic traits if it is to cover real folks’ real stories well.’
After selecting a good topic, Kramer advised the audience to secure good access to the source of the topic.
‘Good access is uncontaminated [and] intimated,’ Kramer said.
Since narrative journalism requires the writer to set his or her characters in a sequence of scenes, Kramer shared the importance of finding the characters in action. However, the writer does not want just any action, but actions that reveal something special about the characters.
Kramer shared his experience about catching the essence of the life of a surgeon by capturing his language and action in the operating room, the place that most defines a surgeon’s characteristics.
Kramer also talked about the use of details in a narrative that help the writer build a sense of place. Setting up the scene immediately puts the readers into the world of the characters. Kramer emphasized the value of sensory details which he defines as things that are not just visible but also things that people can hear, touch and smell.
‘Sensory details are important,’ Kramer said. ‘Be specific, even to the sounds of silk against silk.’
During the last part of his talk, Kramer shared the notes he took on the different facets of a surgeon whom he was shadowing. Kramer’s folder gave the audience a peek into the amount of organization behind the writing process.
Danielle Ball, a third-year literary journalism major shared her opinions regarding good writing.
‘Sure, I think it helps to be blessed with a certain amount of talent, but more than anything else, writing is a lot of hard work and perseverance,’ Ball said.
At the end of the talk, Kramer opened up a brief Q-and-A session where students asked him about his upcoming work as well as some of the books he recommends for aspiring narrative writers.
Siegel looks forward to inviting many other writers to speak on campus, which will expose students to different types and perspectives of writing.
‘My goal is to recruit some of the writers into our Lit-J program,’ Siegel said.
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