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Lecture Notes

image: Campus NewsVisiting lecturer Simon Winchester combines factual reporting with good storytelling
With funding from Robert M. Vare, AB'67, AM'70, a senior editor at Atlantic Monthly, the College has launched a nonfiction writer-in-residence program. Inaugurating the program this winter is Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman (1998), who is teaching The Art and Craft of Storytelling, the University's first narrative nonfiction writing course.

Winchester's reading list for the course includes his 1997 travelogue The River at the Center of the World, a journey on the 3,964-mile Yangtze River; a biography of journalist Bruce Chatwin by Nicholas Shakespeare; the collected works of John Reed, who chronicled Pancho Villa's guerrillas and the Russian Revolution; and Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, a novel satirizing journalistic excess.

Winchester's twin goals for the course are to teach the students to dig up facts like the most hard-nosed of journalists and to tell a story like masters of the craft.

"Think of me as your foreign editor," he tells his nine enrollees, whose first assignment will be to write an 800-word news story.

Winchester provides the scoop: a "terrible injustice" committed during the early-1970s establishment of a U.S. military base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.

"This injustice is little known," he says. "But a recent decision taken in London means that perhaps the wrongs inflicted three decades ago could be on their way to being righted."

He points the students toward the Internet and his own mid-'80s writings on the situation, but leaves them to their own devices to sniff out the trail-with guidance, of course, from class readings and discussions. They are to summarize the story with "style and journalistic grace," offer solutions to the problem at the heart of the story, and suggest the wider implications of their solutions.

"The best summary," he says, "will be that which is both up-to-date and elegantly written."-S.A.S.

 


  FEBRUARY 2001

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