Malcolm X, the Playboy Interview

800px-Malcolm_X_NYWTS_2aSometime in the next few days, you are going to be conducting an interview–either formally with the subject of your Profile Essay or informally with people you meet.

I wanted to key you into this great interview of Malcolm X, which was conducted in 1963 by Alex Haley for Playboy Magazine. Not only is this particular moment important for Malcolm X who was at the height of his power and idealism at that moment, but it is a solid example of how to conduct an interesting and informative interview.

Notice how Haley puts Malcolm X at ease, alternating between easy questions Malcolm X wants to answer and hard questions that challenge him. He never takes Malcolm X at his first word, but pushes, with tact and respect, to find a deeper answer.

Unfortunately, this interview was never turned into a profile; however, for you, it provides an insight into how professional journalists set-up for writing a good essay. When you interview your subject, remember that their first answer might not be enough. Everyone performs a role, and we have a vested interest in maintaining it.

[Photo by Ed Ford, which can be found here, and used under creative commons]


WTF with Marc Maron (Weekend Inspiration)

WTF_with_Marc_MaronDo you like comedy? Well, this is the place to go to listen to wonderfully interesting interviews of comedians by a comedian!

Marc Maron, a self-depreciating and clever comedian and podcaster, brings funny people into his garage and has a chat with them on WTF with Marc Maron. The result: an entertaining and insightful way to spend an hour.

A few highlights for me:

  1. Last year, he had the opportunity to interview Barack Obama. Not only is the interview funny, it is also very informative on policy, American politics, and the self-identity of one of the most important people in the world right now. In addition, Maron discusses how he prepared for the interview and how he had to physically prepare for receiving the president.
  2.  Early on in the show, Maron got the opportunity to talk with Robin Williams. Looking back on this interview, I am impressed by how Maron cut through Williams’s “funnyman” personality and captured a little bit of Williams’s inner self. That was so rare and, having lost Williams, so special.
  3. When Maron set out to interview Louis CK, he ended up revealing more about himself than he meant to… and it is a beautiful meditation on life, humor, and friendship. I consider this episode my “gateway” drug to Marc Maron.

[Note: the interviews with Robin Williams and Louis CK are behind paywalls. You can access them through iTunes for free or Google them.]

Listening in on these conversations, I am struck by how much people want to share with Maron and the world about there lives. In addition, Maron makes all of these great, funny people seem simultaneously more compelling, special, and human.

Why do we need good interviewers in order to get a glimpse at reality? Why do you think people resist showing themselves so much? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

[Image from Wikipedia and, I believe, qualifies as Fair Use.]

Schedule, Week 4: 4/18-4/22

Monday, April 18th: Profiling the Profile

  • Homework Due:
  • Benchmarks for Paper (suggested, not evaluated):
    • Brainstorm groups on campus or places you could profile. This may require some searching online—look at events pages, campus maps, advertisement posters, etc.

Wednesday, April 20th: Interviews

  • Homework
    • BP: Post 6 | Interview Yourself
    • Watch:
      • Elon Musk and Stephen Colbert (for the Colbert Report)–Part 1, Part 2
      • Elon Musk and Stephen Colbert (for The Late Show) {this is a clip from the full interview, which isn’t available legally… but you can feel free to Google it… I just can’t tell you to.}
    • Discussion Questions:
      • Compare and contrast the interview style of the two different versions of Stephen Colbert. How does he (or not) put Musk at ease?
      • What do you think Colbert’s mission was in each interview? What was he trying to achieve?
      • How did Musk react in each interview? What made the difference?
  • Benchmarks for Paper (suggested, not evaluated)
    • The homework for today is SUPER easy on purpose: You need to be working on your paper.
    • Solidify your paper topic. Begin researching for your interview—find background information on the person or type of people you plan on interviewing. If it is one particular person, schedule your interview and prepare questions.

Friday, April 22nd: Field Reports

[NOTE: We are going outside today, so dress for the weather!]

  • Homework
    • BP: Post 7 | Our Rooms
    • Listen:
    • Discussion Questions:
      • Both of the stories in the podcast take place in a zoo. How do each of these zoos differ? Mirroring the language in the podcast (meaning find specific phrases they actually use in the podcast), how is each zoo described?
      • What is the tone of each story? How does the reporter convey this tone in their story? Don’t forget to take into account the words used, the narrative structure, and the use of senses.
      • How would you have to rework each story to make it just as influential in a written medium?
  • Benchmarks for Paper (suggested, not evaluated)
    • Over the weekend complete your interview(s) and field observations. Next week we are focusing on writing, so make sure all of your research is complete.

The Moth (Weekend Inspiration)


The Moth, an effort by George Dawes Green, which is supported by NPR, to reinvigorate the art of storytelling, is part performance, part autobiography, and part stories-for-stories-sake. Since it debuted in 1997, thousands of people have told their stories in front of live audiences all around the United States.

Participants can tell whatever story they want within the universal parameters–each storyteller must present her/his story:

  1. In front of a live audience.
  2. Without notes.

From The Moth’s website: “Moth shows are renowned for the great range of human experience they showcase. Each show starts with a theme, and the storytellers explore it, often in unexpected ways. Since each story is true and every voice authentic, the shows dance between documentary and theater, creating a unique, intimate, and often enlightening experience for the audience. Moth stories dissolve socio-economic barriers, expose vulnerabilities, and quietly suggest ways to overcome challenges and see with new eyes.”

This is not only the goal of The Moth, but it is also the mission statement behind this course. By thinking about how we write our own lives, we should get to questions about human existence, life, God, society, and on and on.

You’ve already watched/listened to Dan Savage’s story, but there are thousands of other stories out there. They might be helpful examples for your Remembered Event paper, but they are definitely helpful examples for living an examined life.

Do you have a favorite storyteller in your life? Someone who always has an interesting tale to tell? Tell us about her or him in the comments!

Schedule: Week 3, 4/11-4/15

The schedule for week 3…

Monday, April 4th: Structuring Memories

  • Homework Due
    • Body Paragraph
      • Should be approx. 250 words. You should have several done at this point, but just bring in one.
      • Print out a copy and bring it to class.
    • Read:
      • Dillard, “An American Childhood” [SMG pages 17-22, thinking through the post-essay activities]
  • Paper Benchmarks (suggested, not required)
    • Your rough draft should be mostly complete. Remember the principle of “Shitty” for your rough drafts.
    • Use SMG 44-46 to guide you on this.

Wednesday, April 6th: Self-Editing (attendance is mandatory)

  • Homework Due
    • Shitty Rough Draft
      • Must be approx. 750 words and include the introduction and several body paragraphs.
      • Print out a copy and bring it to class.
    • ***If you do not have a rough draft, then there is no reason for you to come to class.***

Friday, April 8th: Introduction to Profiles

  • Homework Due
    • “Remembered Event” Essay Due
      • Submit via iLearn
      • See prompt for specifications and grading rubrics.

Updates: Week 2

Hey All!

Now that the craziness of the first week is over, I have fixed a few items that did not seem to be working correctly:

  1. Homework: Posting the homework for the week on the blog was a bit cumbersome, and it led to people reading the wrong materials for Friday. So, I have made a page, which is located in the above menu, where all of the homework will be listed. That way you do not need to search through the blog to find the right post.
  2. In-Class Discussion: When you’ve taught as much as I have, you recognize that all classes have a personality. After last week, I am getting the impression that ours is a more strong and silent sort of class. That is great, but it means that our in-class discussion is going to have to include more structured participation. As a first step, in class today we are going to be making name cards (so that everyone can learn names quickly) and engaging in more in-class, pre-talking writing. This will not effect the way you prepare for class, just what we are going to be doing in class.
  3. Discussion Questions: As requested, I have added discussion questions to your reading this week. If this seems to help, then I will continue to do so. You do not have to write anything up formally, but you should be able to answer the questions (or attempt to) when asked. Remember: bring the readings to class! I noticed today many of you did not have access to the readings, either printed or on your computer. This is just not acceptable. We are going to talk about the readings, so, please, bring them.

Those are the things that I noticed last week, if you have any ideas how to streamline the website or the class, then please come see me during office hours or shoot me an email. I would love to fix problems before they actually become problems.

Also, I have followed all of you on Tumblr. I am 99.9% sure that I located all of you. But, if you do not have me as a follower yet, shoot me an email just to make sure that you are on my list.

Comments? Questions? Concerns? Let me know!



“How Jaques Pepin Saved My Life” (Weekend Inspiration)


One of the most interesting components of your Remembered Event papers is that sometimes the most important things happen in the most mundane ways or on any normal day.

Here is an excellent example of a Remembered Event paper: Brett Martin’s “How Jaques Pepin Saved My Life.” I came across it earlier this week, and I cannot get it out of my head. It is well written and perfect for this course.

Has anyone had this sort of impact on your life? Someone who just showed up the moment you needed them to? To give you advice? Or just listen? Leave a comment, because I would love to hear about them!


Schedule: Week 2, 4/6-4/10

For Week 2…

Monday, April 6th: “Writing is…”

  • Homework Due
    • BP:
    • Read:
      • Lamont, “Shitty Rough Draft” [the PDF is on iLearn]
      • Didion, “On Keeping a Notebook” [the PDF is on iLearn]
  • Paper Benchmarks (suggested, not required)
    • Now that you have an event, brainstorm everything you can about the event. Smell? Feel? Sounds? As well as location and people? What were you wearing? What season was it? … and on and on. Give yourself some time to think through your remembered event. Re-experience it, before your write it.
    • Use SMG pages 33-35 to guide you on this.

Wednesday, April 8th: Taking a Tone

Friday, April 10th: Introductions

  • Homework Due
    • Write up a Rough Draft of your Introduction (shoot for 200 words)
      • Use SMG pages 42-44 as a guide
      • Make the font 18pt (aka, BIG)
      • Double-Space it
      • Print it out
  • Paper Benchmarks (suggested, not required)
    • None, because you are already working on an introduction!

Links to the Course Google Docs

Hi All!

I just sent an email to everyone who wrote their email addresses on the sign-in sheet in class today. It includes links to the Tumblr Account sheet and the Autobiographical Song (aka Extra Credit) sheet.

If you did not receive this note, send me an email ( as soon as you can. I will forward the links to you directly.

If you are having problems viewing the documents, make sure that you are logged out of all of your other email addresses. Then log in directly to your R’mail account. Because I don’t want the world to see our sign-up sheets, access is limited to those with R’mail accounts only.

See you Wednesday! And don’t hesitate to email me with comments, questions, and concerns.



Schedule: Week 1, 3/28-4/1

Here is the schedule for this week.

Monday, 3/28: Introductions

  • Homework Due:
    • None
  • Paper Benchmarks (suggested, not required):
    • None

Wednesday, 3/30: Who am I? (Dramatic Arc)

  • Homework Due:
  • Paper Benchmarks (suggested, not required):
    • Brainstorm ideas for your remembered event paper

Friday, 4/1: Writing about Yourself (Vivid Descriptions)

  • Homework Due:
  • Paper Benchmarks (suggested, not required):
    • Go through your brainstorm list and decide what the significance is for each idea: Why would someone want to read this story? What does it say about you?About your life? Your experiences?Why do you find it interesting?