real story, says visiting writing prof, is in the details
Kotlowitz gets students to write beyond themselves.
first assignment in the course Telling Stories: The Art of Narrative
Nonfiction was to observe someone at work.
main point was to learn the importance of detail and being a
keen observer," explains Alex Kotlowitz, the Robert Vare
visiting writer in residence for 2002. "I've been at this
for 25 years, and I'm still learning how to be a good observer,
a good listener. I don't think it comes naturally for people
and listening is how Kotlowitz, a former Wall Street Journal
reporter, caught widespread attention in his book There Are
No Children Here (1991), a harrowing look inside the housing
projects on Chicago's West Side. The message he left with his
class: it's not all about you.
16 students in Telling Stories were required to choose topics
that fascinated them, and-through the power of narrative-try
to inspire the same level of fascination in their readers. The
only rule: no memoirs allowed.
stories are like a good wine. With age, they'll get better,"
says Kotlowitz. "But more important than that, I really
want students to engage with the world, to spend time with people
they otherwise might not spend time with. I want them to go
out and observe and report."
were a popular selection: video game fanatics, hip-hop dancers
who are entering a contest. One student wrote about an acquaintance
who committed a murder in the eighth grade and had just been
is like any other craft," says Kotlowitz. "The more
you practice, the more risks you're willing to take, the more
willing you are to make mistakes, the better off you'll be.
I want to get students thinking about their prose, precision
of language, storytelling."
Golus, AB'91, AM'93