Tracking an Author: Vinson Cunningham

Cunningham’s recent article in the New Yorker, “Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, and the Quiet Brotherhood of the NBA” discusses the unspoken culture between professional basketball players. Cunningham has a strength for unique perspectives, and this is apparent within this article as well. He discusses the reactions to Gordon Hayward’s gruesome leg injury, something that quickly merges the divide between teams and players. He compares it to the “unity” in the NFL that surrounds the black lives matter movement. While they have this unity, the NBA players have solidarity in a much different sense. The parallel between the two leagues is interesting to consider, as is the difference in tragedies/struggles.

Tracking an Author

I am overdue for an update on the work and writing of Vinson Cunningham. Since I last wrote about him, he has had several new pieces appear in the New Yorker. His most recent cultural comment focuses on the politics of “looking at Barack Obama,” discussing Obama’s unique role as a visual symbol in America. Cunningham takes a pensive approach in examining the “celebrity status” and legacy that Obama has left behind. He achieved attachment among his supporters by allowing himself to be photographed during intimate and private moments. Cunningham ends the piece with an open-ended question, stating that Trump has already received the same form of attachment without the private photos. Cunningham’s quizzical tone in this article makes it interesting to follow and reflect upon.

Formatting a Website

After looking around on several different free website creators, I have settled on Wix. It seems to be a relatively simple site creator that will allow me to exercise my creative freedom without being tech-savvy. I am still having trouble fully envisioning how I want my website to look. As my final experiment is a podcast, I am less worried about the presentation of text on my site. However, I want the overall feel of the website to be crisp and reflective of the project. Colorism is a topic that rests entirely on appearances, so I have chosen a homepage that will allow me to display several photos. This homepage will hopefully serve as a synopsis of who I am as a writer and what my topic is. The reader will then need to toggle to the next page to find my podcast and its transcript. I want to avoid keeping everything on one page to increase website interaction and clarity. I have my domain name now, so all that is left to do is design…

Tone: Where I’ve Been and Where I’m Going

As a writer who often gravitates toward the same academic, sterile and serious tone, the past two experiments have been very noteworthy. My first experiment consisted of a set of personal narrative vignettes documenting experiences with colorism between my childhood and now. The tone was vulnerable and reflective. I attempted to take a more informal approach to make my stories easier to relate to and connect with for the reader. After giving it more thought, I now understand that informal tone is not always synonymous with increased accessibility. Should I choose to continue building upon this experiment at the end of the semester, I’d like to explore the downfalls of using such an informal tone. How does this affect the way the narrative is received?

My second experiment was certainly closer to my comfort zone than my first. This experiment took the form of a podcast, structured with several different episodes to include interviewed guests and snippets of music or audio from pop culture, movies, songs or politics. The tone of this was informative and pensive. I wanted the podcast to stimulate questions and engagement with the listeners. While the tone more more formal than my first experiment, it was not formal to the extent of being professional or academic. As the goal was to bring listeners to moments of personal revelation, I tried to make the tone conversational and engaging.

For my third experiment, I would like to take a more investigative approach. I know I will be using photo and video for this experiment, but have not yet settled on the details of my experiment. I feel that to this point, I have placed too much knowledge in the writer and not enough in the reader. I would like to invite comment, dialogue, and discussion to whatever extent possible. The ideal tone for this experiment would be receptive and welcoming. We’ll see how this takes shape…

Trustworthy vs. Authoritative

In determining whether I find a piece trustworthy but not authoritative or authoritative but not trustworthy, I place a lot of weight on the credibility of the source. There is a piece in the New Yorker that I find trustworthy because of where is has been published, but the author’s voice and the content do not resonate with me. The writing is satirical and candid (it discusses social media presence and influence) which may be leading my to be skeptical about the authority of the author, Danielle Gibson. The topic makes me skeptical. On the other hand, there is an article in the Odyssey that tackles an important and legitimate topic: the presence of the Opioid Crisis in Washington. While the information is substantive and data-based, the platform is not trustworthy and thus undermines my opinion of the author and the work. Because of the other works I have read in the Odyssey that have been deceiving or lacking evidence, it is hard to not read this work with those memories in mind. The article is well-written and uses references, it but is hard for me to assign true authority to it.

Following the Work of a Writer: Pivoting to Modern Day

The original writer that I chose to follow, Joan Didion, was an interesting choice but it has proven difficult to track her progress as a writer. For this reason, I am pivoting towards a writer that I have selected from The New Yorker: Vinson Cunningham. He is a relatively new staff writer at The New Yorker, having joined in 2016. He focuses primarily on books, art, and culture, which differs from my typical reading selection that consists of news and politics. However, with a background working in the Obama White House, Vinson brings interesting viewpoint to these topics.

His personal website contains samples of his writing, which has been published beyond The New Yorker and in The New York Times Magazine, Vulture, and the Awl. The content of his work is unconventional. His most recent piece in The New Yorker focuses on the role of fashion in the NBA, specifically focusing on OKC’s Russell Westbrook and his use of pre-game outfits as a platform for expression. Needless to say, I am looking forward to better understanding Vinson’s writing style and expertise.



Following a Non-Fiction, Living Writer: Joan Didion

I originally came across the work of Joan Didion when I picked up her collection of essays, The White Album, in Literati. Didion is a unique writer in this sense because much of her literary journalism works were produced several decades ago. The White Album is specifically an autobiographical collection of her work that discusses American life and culture during the 1960’s. Didion is still alive and writing, though more scarcely, and I thought that it would be interesting to pursue reverse-engineering of her work.

Didion’s writing has been autobiographical for her entire life- beginning in the 1960’s and still ringing true in her recently published works that discuss the death of her daughter. She has left a legacy as a powerful writer regarding place and how it can shape identity. Her works were first published in magazines including Life, Time, Esquire, and Travel + Leisure. As her network and style progressed from articles to essays to novels (where she has landed currently), much of her focus as a writer remained consisted, focused on personal growth and reflection of our surrounding environments. As her network grew, her follower base did as well- I am curious as to how her target audience was cultivated or changed over time. How was this base impacted by her stylistic changes and maturation as a writer?

Small Staid/Tolentino

Mairead Small Staid

The piece I read was Small Staid’s Pentimenti,¬†published on the Narrative Magazine website. While difficult to pinpoint, it seems that the audience for this poem is the old, wise, and well-travelled. I could see the appeal to young adults, but I thinkt that adults were the intended audience due to the maturity of the poem. The piece discusses the external view of European cities and villages. The tone is somewhat judgmental of the practices and traditions. It focuses on recreation and improving upon things that are unsatisfactory.

I felt that I fell outside of the intended audience. It was easy for me to visualize her travels, but I am not yet old enough to have experiences of my own that relate to the message. I enjoyed the poem, but there are certainly readers that could enjoy it more than I did, as I am enjoying it on the basis of imagination and others could on the basis of comparison and direct application.

Jia Tolentino 

I read The Personal Essay Boom is over, as published in The New Yorker. This piece discusses the rise and fall of the personal essay (attention-grabbing, raw and intimate essays that are often published online). Though I have never been an author of one of these personal essays, I am guilty of reading them a lot over the past couple of years. Tolentino says that there is no longer room to entertain these essays, specifically in the “age of Donald Trump.” The audience for this piece is exactly me: the reader who falls for “click-bait” and the explanation of opinions that are taboo. This applies to people of all ages, ranging from young adults to the retired. More specifically, it applies to the politically aware, and likely those who are in pursuit of higher education or have completed it. The personal essay boom largely was played out online, so it focuses on those who do their reading via online sources rather than print. While I do agree that this has been on the decline recently, I don’t think that there is not longer oxygen for these types of pieces. The current climate is one of individuality and boldness, and she suggests that this has come to an end. I think this is premature.

Minor in Writing Introduction

Hi everyone!

My name is Matisse Rogers and I am a junior from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and though I haven’t decided on a focus area yet, I am extremely interested in domestic social policy. After graduation, I hope to enroll in law school and pursue a career in civil rights or employment/labor law. However, these plans are extremely subject to change in the next several years. Regardless of what I end up doing after graduation, I know that graduating as a strong writer will be helpful.

Outside of class, I am the Business Manager of the Michiganensian Yearbook, a position that has been equally demanding and rewarding. It allows me to get marketing and business experience, which is a nice change of pace from the Ford school and the classes I typically take. Additionally, I am a member of Kappa Alpha Pi Pre-Law Fraternity and the Shipman Scholarship Society. Both of these communities have been important in shaping my time on campus and have led me to meet my closest friends. I love going to concerts and and staying informed on hip-hop culture, as well as watching The Office and reading the news (my favorite outlet is the New York Times).

The Minor in Writing program was most compelling to me because it offers a platform to improve upon the organization and presentation of my academic writing. I have a bit of an aversion to creative writing, but I’d love to explore this as well. I have always been a passionate writer, but I haven’t had the time to dedicate myself to growing as a writer since coming to the University of Michigan. I feel that I haven’t received constructive feedback and even when I have, I didn’t have the time or capacity to digest it in a productive way. My writing has been confined to the same “comfort zone” since freshman year, and I’m excited to extend beyond this in the MiW program.