GLS 592: Magazine Writing
Instructor: Erin Sroka
In this course, students will explore the union of fact and entertainment that characterizes contemporary American magazine writing. The course will investigate the history of the form, marking major shifts in culture and publishing, creating a context for our present moment of editorial cuts and the advent of Internet-driven content.
The magazine feature will be the main unit of study. Students will read masters of the form and discuss craft techniques, narrative, and editorial context. Special attention will be given to the concept of “voice,” that combination of style and personality that gives a magazine feature the power to compete for a reader’s attention.
In addition to reading, students will write. Weekly course content will include short writing assignments such as magazine pitches and front matter (short, pithy pieces like reader how-to’s and Talk of the Town commentaries written in the magazine’s voice) and longer pieces of journalism including one news story and one profile. The course will culminate in a part-creative, part-critical final project: students will turn in a polished final draft of a feature story, including major revisions, and write a critical analysis of their work. The critical piece will root their work in the editorial context for the magazine they’ve chosen, and analyze the craft techniques at work in their prose.
This course will explore the push and pull between art and entertainment, journalism and commerce, and the way stories are parsed into pre-existing categories like Food, Sports, Entertainment, News, Fashion, and Crime. We will look at the powerhouses of American magazines (Harper’s The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, etc.) as well as smaller publications. We’ll discuss what comprises the editorial identity of each, and how they create and maintain cultural authority in an ever-changing media landscape. This close look at magazines will serve as a backdrop for students as they work on their own assignments. The critical and creative elements of the course will serve as a cumulative lesson on writing voice.
Magazine Writing will further the goals of the Graduate Liberal Studies Program by offering students an opportunity to engage critically with a part of their world for deeper understanding. This course uses the interdisciplinary edge offered by GLS to create a learning experience that is both critical and creative: students will practice the techniques they learn in class while exploring how magazine writing functions in the larger media environment. In writing a magazine feature, they will conduct complex research and argue an evidence-based claim, as well as analyze the significance of their creative work, and situate it in a larger context.
Required course texts will include: The New New Journalism by Robert S. Boynton and The Best American Magazine Writing 2013 by the American Society of Magazine Editors. Additional readings will include work by Calvin Trillin, Joan Didion, James Agee, David Foster Wallace, Edith Zimmerman, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Susan Orlean, Tom Wolfe, and others.
Last Update: February 19, 2014