Aside from the more well-known programs such as biological sciences, engineering and social ecology, UC Irvine offers many diverse alternative majors, some bursting forth at accelerated paces, yet not widely known. One of many such programs is the literary journalism program.
In comparison to modern day contemporary journalism, literary journalism involves reporting nonfiction in a lengthy, detailed manner. Usually, this kind of article is not the size of, for example, a front-page story from the ‘LA Times,’ but rather the length of, perhaps, a chapter in a history book, minus the pictures.
Third-year literary journalism major Simon Vakili said, ‘I think the form itself is inspiring in the way it takes these usually average people’s lives and says, ‘Their story is worth telling.’ And often it turns out the story’s worth reading, too.’
Today, many people know literary journalism as ‘new journalism,’ which was a movement in the 1960s by writers who felt the need to place readers in the center of stories and have them experience the circumstances and situations of the story.
Literary journalism sometimes has a bad reputation for involving opinion, lack of structure, lack of straightforwardness and a whole lot of fluff.
Ryan Soykin, second-year literary journalism major, faces these prejudices at UCI. ‘People are usually surprised when I tell them I’m a literary journalism major because, when you ask a UCI student what their major is, you’re likely to get a response like biomedical engineering or political science,’ Soykin said.
With close to 250 students admitted to the program this year, and about 30 more students declared as literary journalism majors for spring, literary journalism is just getting warmed up. The program director is Barry Siegel, who received a Pulitzer Prize for writing a ‘Los Angeles Times’ features piece titled, ‘A Father’s Pain, a Judges Duty, and a Justice Beyond Their Reach.’
Available at UCI for three-and-a-half-years now, the program directors and faculty in the literary journalism program initially anticipated that the program would attain somewhere under 100 students. After only three years, they have already doubled their expectations.
When asked why they offer literary journalism to students here at UCI and not the conventional form of journalism, Patricia Pearson, Academic Coordinator of the literary journalism program, said, ‘We are a humanities department, and traditional journalism majors are often offered in communications departments, which UCI does not have, per se. We are teaching students not how to write short articles, but rather teaching students how to write feature-ranked narratives.’
Many students take on the major not knowing what it actually involves, thinking that it is just another name for traditional journalism. Jami Crabtree, second-year Literary Journalism major said, ‘I didn’t know exactly what Literary Journalism was until I took the class this quarter. Even though I like reading the articles assigned in class, I am more interested in writing shorter articles for a magazine or newspaper.’
Michael Barreto, a second-year literary journalism major said, ‘I don’t want to turn the world and its values upside down, I just want to write articles that people can enjoy and characters to empathize with.’
Instructor Joy Rives believes literary journalism is worth teaching. ‘I enjoy helping students develop their writing. Students tend to be very enthusiastic about their articles. They feel very invested in them as creative projects,’ Rives said.
Literary journalism adds diversity and excitement to the UCI campus. It allows students an opportunity for a more creative approach than the common math and science path. It allows a type of writing that is able to captivate its readers while enlightening them of real events. With more and more interest in the field, the young and growing program is just beginning.