Proposal and Genre Analysis: How to Write Literary Journalism
For my second experiment, I want to do a more research-y but still creative piece about the history of protest songs being misused and reappropriated. After talking with Julie about my first experiment cycle, I realized that I needed to do a lot more research (about Bruce Springsteen and the ‘80s and the ‘60s and protest songs and basically everything) before trying to write fiction based on “Born in the USA”. I think that protest songs are super interesting as cultural products, “Born in the USA” stands out because it seems way more like a protest song than the other songs on the album. I want to do more research about a few questions I have related to protest songs and “Born in the USA”:
- What is a protest song? How have American artists from different genres interacted with and shaped this type of song from the 1940s to the present?
- What are the other well-known protest songs about the Vietnam war, and how are they similar to or different from “Born in the USA”?
- Through what platforms did protest songs gain popularity (TV show appearances of the artists, concerts, music festivals, etc)?
- How does “Born in the USA” comply with and defy general conventions about protest songs?
- How have protest songs been used for means outside of their original purpose (to protest a war)?
- What makes some protest songs more likely to be reappropriated (lyrics, instrumentation, etc)?
- How do protest songs account for and describe patriotism?
I think that answering these questions through research will guide me toward a more specific topic for a piece of writing. I feel pretty familiar with researching because I write for the Michigan Journal of Political Science and so I’ve written a number of pieces that incorporate cultural research and analytical thinking. While my original piece was also a research article, it was much more straightforward and specific. I’d like this second experiment to be broader in scope, and more casually written–more in the style of something you might see published in The Atlantic rather than in an academic journal. I like writing academic-style research papers like the ones I write for MJPS or my origin piece, but I want to move away from that genre into something a little been more casual.
Since I wasn’t exactly sure what genre this fit into, I decided that “creative nonfiction – literary journalism” fit best. Purdue OWL describes this genre as follows:
“Literary journalism is sometimes called “immersion journalism” because it requires a closer, more active relationship to the subject and to the people the literary journalist is exploring. Like journalistic writing, the literary journalism piece should be well-researched, focus on a brief period of time, and concentrate on what is happening outside of the writer’s small circle of personal experience and feelings.”
While I didn’t have a term to describe this genre when I was first brainstorming, I think this comes pretty close. I did some more research about literary journalism and found some good advice that I think will lead me in the right direction:
- What type of lead do I wish to use?
- What is the story about?
- What are the themes?
- What major points do I wish to make?
- What facts do I have? What facts do I still need?
- Are my facts verifiable?
- Who have I interviewed? Who must I still interview?
- How do I want to organize the essay? By topic? Chronological order? Logical order?
- What are my own views on the topic? How do I wish to incorporate my views into the essay?
These questions will help me organize my writing and guide me toward being broad without being unfocused, which I think will be the main challenge of this genre.
I also found some good guiding tenets of literary journalism (and creative nonfiction in general):
- Immersion reporting and research
- Documents (public and private records)
- Tools of literary realism: Scene-by-scene construction; Dialogue: Point of View; Status details (Wolfe)
- Description (Sense of place, character, time)
- Narrative frames (Chronology; parallel narrative; In media res)
- Extra-literary design
- The “line between fact and fiction” and John Hersey’s “Legend on the License” — None Of This Is Made Up
I also thought it was important to read a piece of literary journalism. I read Noreen Malone’s “‘I’m No Longer Afraid’: 35 Women Tell Their Stories About Being Assaulted by Bill Cosby, and the Culture That Wouldn’t Listen” (https://www.thecut.com/2015/07/bill-cosbys-accusers-speak-out.html), which a super interesting and powerful piece. I liked the way Malone organized it, and I think I’ll need to be thoughtful (like she was) about the best way to organize my piece, because it seem like it would be easy for it to get rambly and unorganized.
After looking more into this genre, I feel like I have a good base understanding of how literary journalism might work for the topic I’m thinking about. I feel a little bit overwhelmed by the amount of research I need to do in order to answer my guiding questions, but I’m also excited about experimenting with this genre.