Challenge Journal 3: Tactility

At a Christmas party two years ago, I sat across from one of my best guy friends from high school. We were the only people our age at this party, which had always been the case. He was recounting the stories from his second year at Williams College and, with great enthusiasm, his decision making process regarding his double major in History and Economics. He had always been a bookish type, but now he seemed shrouded an earnest professorial glow. He described forty page papers and hundreds of pages of reading – and he seemed genuinely excited. I felt a little twinge of jealousy, because my major didn’t lend itself to finding the perfect study spot or the satisfaction of finishing a complex, historically significant tome.

“Have you declared yet?” he asked good-naturedly.

“Yeah, I went in Voice Performance.”

“Oh yeah!” he said, nodding as he remembered. “That must be cool.”

“Yeah! I mean – I love it…I did add a minor, though- a Minor in Writing?”

“Oh cool! Why?” he leaned forward.

“I guess…I mean I love writing and I want to get better and it…and, I dunno, voice and music doesn’t really lend itself to tactility. Like, you don’t get the satisfaction of holding your work in your hands and feeling the weight of it- it just goes out of you and POOF!”

“‘Lend itself to tactility…’” he chucked. “That’s the most ‘Emily’ way you could’ve said that.”


Writing has always been a marker of effort and skill for me. In high school and college, I often enjoyed the moment when you print out an essay or research paper and feel its weight in your hands before giving it away for someone else to hold. I used to think of those stacks (big and small) of paper as a quantifiable and tactile version of my brain power.

But as I went through undergrad, even with the Minor in Writing, I found that my writing took that physical form less and less frequently. Save English 425, which effectively obliterated my print budget, most of my classes in writing have relied on digital writing and multi-modal forms. Although I was grateful for the experience in experimenting in multiple genres and forms, I missed the experience of printing stuff out and feeling my “brainpower”’s weight in my hands.

And now we’re here – at the end of undergrad and the end of Capstone. And, despite my initial intent, I don’t think I am going to get the satisfaction of holding a giant research paper in my hands on the last day of class.

But maybe that isn’t such a bad thing?

My project has, at its foundation, remained the same: exploring the relationship between classical vocal music, diversity, and our voice curriculum at Michigan. It has morphed, though, from a research paper to a journalistic article to (now) a sort of argumentative/opinion piece on why representation matters in our program and how diversity can, perhaps, be the thing that “saves” classical music as a whole. I went from trying to focus on and explain all of the theory surrounding diversity and representation in music to focusing more on how to conduct a palpable change in the program. A change people could hold in their hands – something that goes beyond scholarly articles (but still needs to the articles to substantiate the argument!).

My project always centered around interviews and the effects of our program on the people. As I conducted my interviews and learned more about the nut and bolts of our curriculum from faculty, I felt compelled to involved even more people in my project. Seeing project’s like Laney’s and Ashley’s – who directly ask on their website for users to share their stories – inspired me to include my own “comments” section on my website.

But, as I continue to wrap up the project, I want to go further. This brings me to the “question” of this very roundabout blog post: should I include a link to a petition which states that there should be at least two African American composers listed in the “American Song” section of our requirements? This request is the palpable/tactile action I landed on based on what I know about American art song, my research in identity theory and representation in classical music, and my interviews with students and some faculty. Would it be too ballsy? Would I be overstepping the boundary of a student? What do y’all think?

I may print out some version of my Capstone so I can hold it in my hands. Or, I may just throw a pizza party for all my interviewees and give them all a hug; or print out a revised version of a Michigan SMTD undergraduate voice repertoire sheet – hopefully somewhere down the line – that includes more than just the names of old, dead white guys. I have a feeling those few words and/or those embraces will feel a lot more satisfying than a stack of my own words alone.

Experiment two: How to write a personal narrative

Summary of origin piece:

My origin piece is something that I wrote in English 125.  It was a deeply personal narrative, but I felt like a lot of the things that I discussed–family history, self-esteem, and confidence–were universal themes.  My plan for my experiment is to change this origin piece into a work of creative nonfiction that reflects how these feelings are universal, and shows the extent that we change who we are.  I’m not crazy about writing a personal narrative as it’s a genre that I feel like I’ve explored a lot before. I’m not sure exactly what moment from my life I really want to explore, but I’m sure something will come to me. For the second experiment I would really like to return to writing more. I mentioned this in my reflection, but I think that my final project was very far from what I wanted my project to look like, and I hope this personal narrative corrects that. I want to continue to explore the idea of how we have so many ways that we can choose to present ourselves, and it’s hard to know which of these versions is “real.” So here it is, my return to writing and my return to how-tos:

How to write a personal narrative:

According to Webspiration, there are some essential tips to writing a good personal narrative. Good personal narratives should keep these things in mind:

  • Write in the first person. Since it’s your story, use “I” to start your sentences.
  • Include vivid imagery and lots of sensory details. You want the reader to experience the event with you.
  • Try to use dialogue, which can help you to engage the reader and add realism.
  • Weave your emotions into your narrative. The reader should know how you felt as the events unfolded.

Frankly I agree with all of these points, but I think it’s much simpler to say than do. I like what this outline promotes, but I don’t know if this advice would really help me write a better narrative.  The second source that I checked was  slightly more helpful.  According to wikihow, to write a personal narrative one should:

  1. focus on a memorable event or moment in your life
  2. expand on an important conflict in your life
  3. think about a particular theme or idea
  4. read examples of personal narratives

I think these are all much better point as they provide general guidelines about how to improve your writing. The other sources I looked at seemed to say similar things, so I took a slightly different route while looking for inspiration.

I take a lot of my tips for writing personal narratives from movies. Movies are like personal narratives as they both tell a story and are meant to make the audience feel something. This is a bit of me going off on a tangent (shocking right?), but I saw a movie trailer this morning that really interested me.

I’m not a big Amy Schumer fan, but the first 30 seconds I felt myself interested as Amy Schumer is a white, blonde, straight, maybe slightly overweight, American woman who continues to push a narrative that she’s horribly unattractive and feels isolated by society, and frankly in her quest to come across as “real” it verges into offensive territory.  The beginning starts feeling so honest, but the rest of the movie feels like Schumer showing people how great her life is, and it felt exactly like my first experiment—it even used music that I tried for my video which was an unbelievable weird coincidence.  I’m not sure exactly how this relates…but I don’t want my narrative to be like that. Personal narratives should be honest at their very core. Faux honesty is the only thing I want to avoid.. So replicating Schumer’s honesty and storytelling ability but shifting the focus is what I want ot do with my personal narrative.  I’m still looking for more sources of inspiration, but I think this is good guidance to know what direction I’m trying to avoid.


Summary of Stage/Experiment 1

So far its been both a blessing and curse that my origin piece perfectly reflects my interests and ethical values. Despite the fact that I am an economics major and super passionate about finance, I am very conscious of the damage greed and capitalism have had throughout human history. My origin piece reflects this concern in that it is a philosophical narrative on how society would be different if money did not exist, and whether such a society would be feasible. As I mentioned in my last blog post, the primary problem with the origin piece is that it is far too broad and does not focus on any specific angle to address the ethical concern at hand.

In experiment 1, I attempted to portray the idea of a moneyless society through a modern social science novel, something like Freakonomics. I believe that my prior experience in reading these genres had provided me with both a clear passion and knowledge on the nuisances in the genre’s style. Yet over the course of the experiment I felt like my interest was waning, as I begun to realize that I was TOO familiar with this form of research writing. At a certain point I just wanted to end the experiment and then start doing something that was fresh for me and would force me to do something out of my comfort zone. So I begun to explore my other interests and passions to find something fun that I could combine my idea of a moneyless society with. I chose to experiment with my love for Hip-Hop music.

How To Write Modern Rap Music

Don’t get your hopes up, I’m not making a rap song and am not an aspiring SoundCloud rapper. I’m just a fan of a wide-range of hip-hop sub-genres: old-school East Coast, West Coast G-Funk, Southern chopped and screwed, Trap, “Mumble” rap, etc. You name the style and I probably already listen to it. In the past several years, there is a clear stylistic trend that any major hip-hop fan is aware of. This is the prevailing dominance of Atlanta trap.

Atlanta’s Modern Origins

There is no doubt that Atlanta is the modern capital of global hip-hop; however, this is difficult to observe in the moment. Only in retrospect do we see the dominance of NYC in the late 90s and the reemergence of California rap in the early 2000s. That is why we should briefly discuss my theory of TrapLanta’s rise. While many hip-hop cultures like the Gangsta rap culture of 90s’ LA are in response to social issues like police brutality and the War on Drugs, Atlanta rappers do not have seem to be responding to any larger issues, which explains why the lyrics are so widely criticized for being “empty.” That’s not to say that there are no issues to respond to, however. Rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, and Logic have reasserted hip-hop’s usefulness as a social weapon, as they address police brutality, gay rights, and mental health awareness all in their songs. Thus, the question is, how has the consumeristic culture of Atlanta trap taken over in a time when it appears socially music conscious reigns supreme? My answer is simple: the sound. The meteoric rise of rap from 2015 onwards intersected directly with the trends in pop music production of the same time. Auto-tune, heavy bass, and a synthetic beat defined the pop-music of this time period. These features have always been at the heart of modern Atlanta rap music. Consequently, music from Future, 21 Savage, and Lil Yachty skyrocketed in popularity and took over radios, propelling these small rappers into superstardom in just two years. With Hip-Hop now the most listened to genre in America, making it the new “Pop” music, and rappers like Migos ascending to a trans-genre throne, it may not be too far-fetched to claim that Atlanta is now America’s music capital.

Music Video GIF by Migos - Find & Share on GIPHY

Yes, there are huge artists who have managed to maintain their own regions sound, like Kendrick Lamar and Jay Z. But most other artists have essentially fallen in line with fan demand and have tried to replicate the Atlanta style in both production and lyricism. Trap Music, the dominant sub-genre in rap currently, originated in Atlanta. If you are unsure who Atlanta’s biggest artists are, here’s a small list of them. Think about how many of them you were aware of five years ago.

  • Future
  • 2 Chainz
  • Migos
  • Lil Yachty
  • Gucci Mane
  • Young Thug
  • 21 Savage
  • Rich the Kid
  • 6Lack
  • Mike WiLL Made It

In just five years, these artists have forced hip-hop to evolve in the trap era. With that change in sound, however, there has been a forced change in lyrics. Materialism has always been prominent in rap, but it has escalated to a new formulaic level. Hit rap songs these days almost always feature the following phrases/words/brands:

  • ICE (diamond jewelry)
  • Lean (cough syrup x jolly ranchers x sprite)
  • Xanax
  • Maison Margiella designer clothing
  • Saint Lauren designer clothing
  • Goyard bags
  • Gucci
  • Chanel
  • Patek watches
  • Audimar watches
  • Cartier
  • Christian Loubotuin shoes
  • Wraith Rolls Royce
  • Moncler
  • Rolex
  • Raf Simmons

I would be willing to bet that 9 of the top 10 songs on the Billboard Rap list mention at least one of these brands, drugs, or phrases. What everything on that list has in common is that rappers mention them to flaunt their wealth. Whether rapping about materialism is a good look for music or not is up to you and your preferences, but reality is that rap music is more dependent on luxury brands than ever before. The consumeristic trend in music will be around as long as Atlanta is the sound. And Atlanta has just gotten started.


Combining music and my thoughts about a moneyless world seems perfect considering this trend in hip-hop music. Although I don’t want to focus on Atlanta specifically, I do want to focus on the lyrical elements of Atlanta’s hip-hop scene. Thus, my plan is to conduct a statistical analysis of the top charting hip-hop songs of the year. Specifically, I want to see what proportion of the words in each of these songs have to do with consumer culture, drugs, and wealth. Perhaps through these numbers we can determine whether our tastes for meaningful lyrics are truly reflected in the charts, or whether our current generation simply pretends to want lyrical content (assuming that consumer culture isn’t real content to rap about). While for this experiment I will only check the top songs of 2017, for my final project I am considering comparing the most recent albums by my favorite artists (so that I don’t have to deal with Bruno Mars being at #1 of the charts).

TED Talks for Dummies

Summary of Stage 1:

In contemplation of which origin piece to select, I felt really fortunate to land on my first essay from my English 125 class, entitled “Checklist.” I wanted to started off my freshman year with a creative spin, so I resorted to what I knew best – checklists. As you can imagine, the essay was structured as such, with each list followed by a narrative account. It felt right, except for the fact that at the bottom of each list was always a box left unchecked – a certain goal that was frustratingly unattainable. At the time, I thought that this structured organization and rigid system of goal setting was flawless, but, you will come to find out that at the end, I seriously consider dropping this way of approaching life. The last sentence of the essay reads: “☐   Leave the checklists in the past.”


Image result for gifs on checklists


I’ve realized that the main problem with this piece is that it is, well, unfinished. I have not made up my mind and, as I continue to follow down this structured path in my current life, I am left uninformed as to whether or not I am doing myself any justice. My first experiment aimed to delve into the psychology behind checklists; however, after researching the topic, I ran into a dead end. What’s more – like Maya and her podcast experiment – I found that the “research motions” that I was taking were far too similar to my daily routine. So, moving forward, I’d like to have more fun with my experiments (and venture into disciplines that I am unfamiliar with). I’m really excited that this class lends a lot of flexibility in this cycle, so this time, I’d like to tackle a TED Talk.


Image result for fun gif


How to Present a TED Talk:

This approach is definitely exciting, though fairly daunting. I would wager that most people have seen at least one TED Talk before, so they would know that they are pretty amazing presentations. They are all very well thought out, covering stimulating topics, accompanied by aesthetically pleasing slides, graphics, etc. For some background information, I should add that TED — which stands for technology, education, design – began in 1984 as a yearly conference wherein industry leaders and creative types went to exchange “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

So ~inspirational~ right?

Since then, though, TED has created a variety of spin-offs, putting hundreds of speeches online every year, garnering millions of views. Notwithstanding that my goal isn’t fame of this magnitude (though, that would be pretty awesome), I still think that I should go about its production in a similar vein. Chris Anderson, the owner and global curator of TED, mentions that in order to create a talk, “you have to have something meaningful to say, and your goal [should be] to re-create your core idea inside of your audiences minds.”

That’s easy enough, I suppose. My ultimate goal is to spark a conversation regarding checklists – a pretty typical, yet, perhaps, overlooked topic. Similarly, in “TED’s secret to a great public speaking” (a YouTube clip), they suggest that presenters must give people a reason to care and build ideas with familiar concepts. I definitely think these are really salient factors – and ones that I think I can incorporate. Crafting stories might prove to be relatable to the audience wherein they might also be able to think about their own personal anecdotes. I know that my origin piece is essentially a compilation of four different personal experiences, all centered on a checklist, so I think that could work really nicely.

On a more detailed note, TED’s website is also very informative as how to develop slides for the presentation. It notes that the slides should be light on content so as to not distract the audience and should use a simple slide background. Although these might be rather straightforward, I think it underscores the importance of a minimalistic approach. I’ve found that a lot of the talks that I am really fond of use pictures, instead of written words, so I think that could be really neat. I’d love to run with some of the visuals that correspond with my stories.

Perhaps one of my greatest takeaways — and most profound revisions to this post — is the fact that when approaching a TED Talk, I must “pick a side” when discussing the topic. In other words, I cannot ambiguously present a variety of perspectives regarding checklists; I must answer the “unresolved” aspects of my origin piece and persuade my audience to agree with me. As noted above, I will still attempt to do this through pictures and anecdotes.

I am really looking forward to hearing everyone’s feedback! There are so many intricate talks that have inspired a lot of people, so I am interested in hearing about all of the different twists that I might be able to incorporate within mine.

Image result for cant wait gif

Cycle 2: My foray into poetry

By the time I finished Cycle 1, I had a pretty clear idea of what I didn’t want to do for this experiment, but I wasn’t sure of what I did want to do. I knew I should do something more traditionally “creative” than my podcast had been, but what type? A short story? A children’s picture book? Maybe a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-type piece? The options seemed endless, and I was getting so exasperated that I thought I might have to just write them all down on slips of paper and pick one out of a hat.

Luckily, a family gathering saved me from having to do that. As I sat in my grandparents’ den over the weekend, I opened a book my uncle had made several years ago of all his writing since college. I’d browsed the volume before, but this time a set of poems I’d never noticed before caught my eye. During graduate school, my uncle had written a poem for each member of his family— my dad, my aunt, and both of my grandparents— and each poem perfectly encapsulated its person. I felt positively inspired after reading my uncle’s poems, and I finally knew which genre to use for my experiment cycle: poetry.

My poetry experience is limited to a few units throughout high school English classes. While I enjoy reading poetry, it’s always seemed way too abstract for me to replicate well, and as a result, I’ve never seriously tried to write a poem. To figure out how to best approach this task, I turned first to Oprah (obviously).

Oprah GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

An article on from poet Honor Moore gives a list of twelve writing prompts to get an aspiring poet started. I already had a theme for my pieces, so I scrolled to the bottom of the article, where I found more general tips. Oprah and Honor told me that I should write a poem between 20 and 30 lines, with each line containing 10 or more syllables. And also I should “think of the poem as a dream or a psalm you are inventing, and don’t force it. Write in your own speech, allowing its music and sense to speak through you.”

Another source, this one from Seton Hall University, questioned whether I was writing to capture a feeling or to communicate with an audience. I found this to be a very interesting question. What is my purpose in taking on this project? I decided I want to communicate with the audience— like my podcast, I don’t want these poems to be about my own experiences with family and being an oldest child, but rather a way to showcase the wide range of experiences others have had. With that in mind, I gathered several useful tips from Seton Hall, including the advice to know my goal, use concrete words, communicate a theme, and REVISE.

These practical tips were helpful, but as I researched, I found myself also wanting some real examples of poetry to base my own work on (aside from my uncle’s, of course). Fortunately, during our conference, Julie told me to look up poet Marilyn Nelson, and sure enough, Nelson’s work did not disappoint. Although our subject matters are different, Nelson takes real-life events and turns them into poetic musings that add a whole new dimension to her subjects. She seems to be a master at taking a single moment and using it as a window into a whole society— a skill I’d love to mimic in my work.

(Daughters 1900, by Marilyn Nelson)

I’m moving into this experiment with a renewed enthusiasm. Poetry is new to me, and exciting, and will provide me with a creative challenge. I’m ready to get started.

I Tried to Write a Genre Guide to Satirical Cosmo Snapchat Articles and You Won’t Believe What Happened

Coming out of my last experiment cycle, I knew I needed to narrow my topic. By deciding to do a vignette collection I spent a lot of time thinking about overarching themes and not enough thinking about the details of each vignette and what specifically I wanted to communicate with them. For this experiment cycle, I had to be more decisive not just about what, specifically, I wanted to communicate, but also what exactly is the topic I’m writing about.

So, I’m going to write a satire in the form of an article similar to what you would see in the Cosmopolitan magazine’s Snapchat story. Cosmo is a casual, chatty fashion magazine aimed at a mainly female audience. The company overview on their Facebook page describes the magazine “a bible for fun, fearless females … Cosmopolitan delivers the latest news on men and love, work and money, fashion and beauty, health, self-improvement and entertainment.”

Cosmo and a few other platforms like Buzzfeed have adopted a “I did ___ for a week and [insanely click-baity result] happened!!” style. The structure follows the day by day drama of “wearing Instagram makeup” or “living like Queen Elizabeth” for a week (both real articles by the way). For my experiment, I’m going to write an article following this structure, specifically, “I went without makeup for 7 days and here’s what happened.”

Satire is both genre and literary device. According to Literary, it’s used to expose and critique society. I think we are most familiar with satire as in a comedic, if still political, context (think Daily Show, John Oliver, The Onion, some Saturday Night Live sketches etc.) However, there are several types of satire. Here are two of the most well-known categories:

Horatian: The primary goal here is humor, not social change or critique. Rather, the focus on the absurdities of human life, hopefully offering the reader some personal insight or at least a laugh at themselves.

Juvenalian: Bitter, ironic criticism often full of moral indignation and pessimism. For example, A Modest Proposal is a Juvenalian satire.

I want my satire to be comedic, but it’s important to me to make a meaningful, nuanced commentary on women, makeup, and societal standards. To accomplish this, I will use satirical techniques, listed and described here, to push beauty standards to a logical extreme.

In my research for this post, I’m finding that the most effective satires are the ones that tend to make you uncomfortable. The classic example is A Modest Proposal, but there are others. For example, this article from The Onion, “Wealthy Teen Nearly Experiences Consequence,” is has it’s funny moments, but it’s mostly unsettling when you think about how close it is to reality. This satirical makeup tutorial, Getting a Man 101, is funny more than anything, but while watching it, the viewer, at least the makeup wearing viewer, is prompted to think about why we wear it.

The challenge going forward is definitely going to be finding a balance between the hilariously absurd and the more nuanced criticism of society I hope to make with this piece. Hopefully by employing some satirical techniques and keeping my focus in mind, I’ll be able to keep that balance in check

How to Write a Photo Essay

I’ve never been a photographer. It’s a shame, really, the way we carry cameras around with us at all times; a moment captured at the tap of the finger, anywhere, anytime. It could not be easier to collect photographs from the world around us, and yet, time and time again I find myself going through the motions of life without thinking to pause for a minute and take a picture. My camera roll is essentially screenshots of text conversation and notes I missed from class.

But wait — isn’t the uncanny availability of technology what we’re afraid of? Isn’t photography being depleted by selfies and portrait mode and filters and photoshop? I know a lot of people who would say they go through the motions of life taking the pictures and forgetting to look at the sunset, not vice versa. But for some reason, even with my face-sized iPhone in my hand, I go through life un-photographed.

Here’s the thing about running: we’re always in motion. I’ve found that it’s hard to capture the essence of the sport in a photograph. It’s hard to capture the human breath in a picture, or the heartbeat.

Here’s the thing about words: I use them, a lot. I like the way they swirl together and drift apart, the way I can untangle and rethread them. I like to sew sounds together, to paint stories.

But how do we tell a story without words? How do I capture myself running through life with my lips sealed and eyes open? How do I tell a story in pictures? I’ve never been a photographer, but I am a writer. Now I’m starting to think I can be both.

When you Google “How to Write a Photo Essay” different links come up. However, most of them don’t use the word “write” at all. The headlines use words like “create” or “make”. But I’m determined to WRITE this. I’m determined to use pictures to tell a story, to untangle and weave, to evoke and illustrate. And I’m trying to write about running. I think I want to tell my story, or more broadly, our story, the story of my family and my team, the story of why we do what we do. It’s the most brutal of moments to capture, the most raw. The most human act, instinctual and painful and freeing.

Lynsey Mattingly of wrote what I found most inspiring throughout my internet search: “As a photographer, you are a storyteller. The nouns are your subject matter; the verbs are the color and contrast that keep the story moving. A cast of characters all working together to get your point across. Instead of proper grammar, you ensure proper exposure. Instead of spelling errors, you watch for tack-sharp focus. For those times when the story is especially important and meaningful, or for when one image doesn’t say it all, there is the photographic essay.”

How to write a “Photo Essay”

A picture is worth a thousand words – and quite frankly I am getting a little tired of words. For this experiment cycle I have decided to get in touch with my creative side, that has not been tapped into in a while, with a photo essay. My plan is to use pictures of Harlem before gentrification and drawings on top of it of how those spaces look now. As a former art student, I have a lot of experience with photo essays. Photo essays usually consist of a series of photos tailored on a theme or story. I’ve done a photo essay series on milk, as well as life on 27th street NYC. This photo essay is different in that the images photographed will not be mine, since I don’t have the resources to travel to Harlem for the duration of this project and they will also be edited. I am used to developing film in a dark room so editing digital images will be a new experience for me. I hope this project gives viewers concrete examples and a deeper understanding of the changes due to gentrification. TIME Magazine’s 10 Best photo essays of January 2015 are all images that exemplify some accept of life, whether it be people, homes or personal items. Most of the images are powerful, for example exposing the epidemic in West Africa. I found a website on “How to Make” a photo essay, so I checked if what I thought I had to do aligned with its thoughts. Here’s what they have to say and a little bit about what I have to say.

  1. Find your photographer
    1. I usually use myself as a photographer, but like I said that’s not happening. So I got this stage down. I’ll be using some photos I found while doing research for my last project.
  2. Decide on Message
    1. My message is gentrification is changing Harlem. Bingo
  3. Make a game plan
    1. Game plan is to find pictures comparing new and old Harlem and digitally draw over old Harlem with outlines of New Harlem
  4. Choose your photos
    1. That’s easy
  5. Include a variety of shots
    1. I’m going to work with what I have
  6. Format your photos
    1. Yeah I’m doing that with the drawing
  7. Briefly set the scene
    1. I never really wrote an intro for a photo essay so this will be interesting
  8. Conclude with a call to action
    1. Stop screwing Harlem?

Experiment 2, Stage 1

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”:

  1. 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?
  2. 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”?
  3. Through what platforms did protest songs gain popularity (TV show appearances of the artists, concerts, music festivals, etc)?
  4. How does “Born in the USA” comply with and defy general conventions about protest songs?
  5. How have protest songs been used for means outside of their original purpose (to protest a war)?
  6. What makes some protest songs more likely to be reappropriated (lyrics, instrumentation, etc)?
  7. 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):


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” (, 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.