The Nieman Storyboard

I’ve been reading some wonderful content on the Nieman Storyboard, a great resource from the Nieman Foundation:

“A project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at
Harvard, Nieman Storyboard looks at how storytelling works in every medium. In
addition to highlighting outstanding print narratives, we seek to feature the
best examples of visual, audio and multimedia narrative reporting. As a bonus,
we’ll also give you occasional updates on conferences, awards, and other
narrative news.”

If you’re an avid reader of non-fiction, it’s really
interesting to learn more about the processes behind this kind of writing. In a recent Nieman interview with Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Wilkerson talks about putting together a complex non-fiction narrative. As a writer, she’s working without the huge technical limitations, hassles and expenses of film and video, but without the worth-1000-words power of images that documentary filmmakers are used to having at their disposal – it’s another side of the coin but some of her struggles might sound eerily familiar to filmmakers:

“And of course, for narrative journalists, one of the major things that we’re looking for is someone who is open and candid, willing to cooperate with some level of almost investment in being able to share and take the time to tell the story – in other words, access.”

“It’s nonfiction, and we have to go with what we’ve got. So, first over-reporting is what I do, and it’s what a lot of people do. There’s a lot on the cutting room floor when you do this kind of work – as well it should be. Not everything you get needs to go in, and not everything you get is the reader going to be interested in. There’s way, way, way more things that didn’t get in than got in. That’s a good thing; that’s how it should be.”

It’s fascinating to see how she researches her story going “into the field” and struggling to distill and fit together real people’s stories in a structure inspired by The Grapes of Wrath.

Wilkerson is s the Director of Narrative Nonfiction at Boston University’s College of Communications; BU is holding a
conference, The Power of Narrative: The Rebirth of Storytelling, on April
, The keynote speaker is author Susan Orleans (having recently read and
loved SATURDAY NIGHT, one of her older books, I might try to attend!)

– Nellie

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