Term’s End

Another semester is ending. It always feels a little messy, like cleaning up a gymnasium after a big dance party during which (you remember) some things happened you wish had not happened. But several of my students have sent me emails exclaiming what a great experience they had, and this makes me remember the good that has come out of the two courses I taught.

Especially JOUR318, “The Literature of Journalism.” We read and discussed, in grad-school seminar fashion, most of the great American writers who combined journalism and prose craft: Stephen Crane, Lafcadio Hearn, W.E.B. DuBois, Joseph Mitchell, Gay Talese, Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Hunter Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Ted Conover, Isabel Wilkinson and more. The nine students also tried their hand at a news feature, most of which were published (guest appearances) on our department’s weekly Rockbridge Report website. A few examples here, and here.

But what most floors me are several of their final projects. Some did research papers, but others tried long-form journalism, or what might be called creative non-fiction. In one, Alexandra Seymour wrote a poignant narrative about the incredible life of her 81-year-old father, who pioneered global clothing imports such as pocket-tees and managed old pop-chart figures, including Chubby Checker. Another, by Jackie Clifford, turned interviews with her grandfather into a tightly crafted thriller about his surviving 43 hours in the water after his aircraft carrier was sunk in the Pacific by a Japanese shell. Caroline Holloway, who discovered Freddie Goodhart’s magical shop of priceless junk in a class exercise in which we scattered around Lexington in pairs, wrote a charming profile of that free-spirited descendant of the McCormick family. I would love to see these published in some classy magazine. But wait – why not just put them on the web?

You hear people saying negative things about the Internet, but I’m thinking good thoughts about it at this beginning of Advent. It’s a great light for a people who dwell in darkness. I’m thinking of all the WordPress blog posts I’ve written, from Ireland and Italy and for my parish church. They’re all there, a link away.  I don’t bother to push these out to the world with keywords or Search Engine Optimization, but I know how to find them, like journals of my last 10 years sitting on a shelf in my bedroom. I think of good feature stories that some of my students have written, and realize that I can call up many of them in half a minute. To pick one I just remembered, somewhat at random, here’s a fine narrative about the little town that has almost vanished, Rapp’s Mill. There are a lot more, the culmination of semesters past and (nearly) forgotten.

About Doug Cumming

Writer, W&L journalism professor emeritus
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