This writing course begins with classic readings from a variety of publications—magazines, newspapers, websites, books and blogs—including but not limited to National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, the New York Times and the Washington Post travel sections. We’ll examine techniques creative non-fiction writers use to make scenes, people, places and social issues come alive for readers. Since travel writing relies on insights about societies and countries many readers are unfamiliar with, Semester at Sea provides a unique opportunity to avoid “parachute journalism” by expanding your own reporting with insights from visiting lecturers, an international faculty and intelligent classmates. Most writers get drawn into this work as readers first, so it’s not uncommon to think successful stories and articles arrived intact, without a lot of revision and rewriting. Rarely true. It usually takes tremendous dedication and work before features (especially freelance stories) impress an editor and reach an audience. You’ll learn how to be as efficient as possible, recognize what works and what doesn’t, and how to self-edit. You’ll receive critiques from peers and me on all writing assignments. We’ll also discuss how to “break in”—how new writers can introduce themselves and establish connections with editors and publications they have yet to work with. As Ira Glass of “This American Life” advised new writers who want to become as good as their ambitions aspire to be, the most important thing they can do to close that gap is create “a huge volume of work.” (See two-minute video, “Ira Glass on Storytelling”: http://vimeo.com/24715531 ) This class begins with small steps—sentences and paragraphs brought back on board after each field trip—and grows them into articles with deep insights and skillful portraits.
Field WorkCountry: South Africa
Date: March 18, 2018
Our field class will begin through discussions with three distinguished South African luminaries—journalist and author Zubeida Jaffer, South African Public Radio producer Antjie Krog, and Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs. All three spent several decades organizing resistance to the apartheid government established by Dutch colonists and succeeded in 1994, when the new democracy in South Africa elected ANC leader Nelson Mandela as its first president. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has also been invited to join his colleagues, who were instrumental in setting up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In addition to lectures and discussions with these fascinating speakers, students will take a guided tour of Robben Island and visit the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for nearly 30 years. The speakers are invited to join us for lunch. After the tour of Robben Island, we’ll return for dinner and the film, “Material—Life is a Funny Business,” starring stand-up comic Riaad Moosa. This “landmark in South African cinema” (Peter Wilhelm, Financial Mail) addresses the “timeless themes of destiny, responsibility, forgiveness and ultimately the importance of family.” It also demonstrates how critical humor is in the wake of tragedy, allowing citizens to laugh, heal, and find the courage to carry on. Depending on his schedule, Moosa would like to join us for a discussion about his work on the film. The boat trip from Cape Town to Robben Island is approximately a half-hour, and provides a breathtaking view of Cape Town nestled at the foot of Table Mountain. (When I mentioned this to fellow passengers twenty years ago, the South African ambassador aboard remarked, “I know. Too bad. If it weren’t so spectacular, the Dutch may have sailed right on by…”) If time permits, we’ll meet with some of the student contributors to The Journalist, the weekly newspaper founded by Zubeida Jaffer to close the generation gap between the activists to ended apartheid and the beneficiaries of the new democracy. Learning Objectives:
- To learn the history of the anti-apartheid movement and meet some of the major figures in the ANC (African National Congress).
- To learn why the new South African government decided to create the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and hear some of the testimonies aired on South African Public Radio.
- To meet some of the stand-up comics who were critical during the transition from apartheid to democracy, and hear how useful humor is in the wake of tragedy.