Archive: Oct 2009

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Interview with Mary Gaitskill: lessons from "Lost Cat"

By Narrative News October 6, 2009

Today we offer the second installment of a two-part look at narrative nonfiction from Granta’s summer issue. I spoke with author Mary Gaitskill about “Lost Cat,” her memoir on the disappearance of an adopted pet, and how she connected the loss to other events in her life. On the topic of using the piece to examine her own motives, she says, “I think that one’s own motives are interesting. Everybody’s motives are interesting… True feeling is often hidden under superficial or more attractive feelings; selfish motives are often wound up with truly altruistic ones.” She references the Grace Paley adage about fiction being a lie you tell to get to a bigger truth, and talks about the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction. Fiction, she says, “is a lie if you believe it literally. It’s a story that didn’t happen, but it illuminates the idea. I express myself much more plainly or directly with nonfiction. With fiction, I am largely speaking the language of metaphor, which people frequently mistake for literal communication.” Read the full interview. Read more

Interview with Mitch Epstein: Images of “American Power”

By Digital Storytelling October 5, 2009

In September, photographer Mitch Epstein spoke by phone with us about his project “American Power,” which was highlighted in Granta’s summer issue. Epstein has worked as a fine art photographer and a photojournalist, as well as a director, cinematographer, or production designer on several films. While “American Power” was not done as a commercial news narrative, it is rooted in story, and Epstein had some interesting things to say about how images do and don’t work as narratives. Here are some excerpts: “With photography, I think one can suggest narrative. But it is not the same as literary storytelling. I think that I do maybe more storytelling and develop a kind of more definitive narrative with the way in which I put my pictures together as exhibitions and books. That’s part of what excites me about books. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The way in which the pictures get strong in their sequence does indeed lead you through an experience. And you have to arrive at a final point.” “An individual photo can suggest a narrative. It can imply a narrative. They’re better in a way at articulating questions than they are at delivering answers.” Read the full interview. Read more

Picturing the cost of power

By Digital Storytelling October 5, 2009

Mitch Epstein’s "American Power" depicts the landscape as political narrative. The American photographer, who has chronicled cultural complexities in India and Vietnam, now homes his camera in on dissonances within his own culture. The subject of "American Power" is energy in America—its production, consumption, and unintended consequences. And embedded in the terrain of the images is a critique of American power in the other sense of the word—its destructiveness and contradictions. Like an unflattering mirror, Epstein’s pictures reflect back the troublesome realities that the exercise of American power can create. Read the full essay. Read more

Innocence and suspense: David Grann’s "Trial by Fire"

By Short Takes October 4, 2009

“Trial by Fire,” from the September 7 issue of The New Yorker, recounts the story of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in Texas for setting fire to his house and killing his three children. Reporter David Grann uses disturbing details to reinforce the doubt expressed in the article’s subhead (“Did Texas execute an innocent man?”) , and the drama continues to unfold as more evidence comes to light suggesting a mistake was made. The facts of Willingham’s story are compelling enough, but Grann’s structure maximizes their impact. He opens the piece with the fire itself, giving readers just the information that was available for investigators to examine. Those fire investigators are the next characters we meet—the people we count on to interpret the facts and explain what happened. Grann gives us a list of their credentials; one is a former firefighter and recipient of multiple Purple Hearts with decades of on-the-job experience. We follow as Grann recreates their visit to the ruins of the house, which leads them to classify what they find as a clear case of arson. Read more

Narrative, News and Conferences

By Narrative News October 3, 2009

Today the Online News Association wraps up its 2009 Conference in San Francisco. Thursday’s pre-conference video workshops from The Washington Post’s Chet Rhodes and Ford Fellow Richard Koci Hernandez sound particularly exciting, with sessions addressing when to use video (and … Read more

Could World of Warcraft be the new War and Peace?

By Digital Storytelling October 1, 2009

Whether Pacman or Halo first introduced you to video games, calling them “high art” might stretch the sensibilities. But boardwalk nickelodeons led to movies like The Godfather —could a similarly radical transformation be underway with games? Narrative journalism draws many of its core principles from novels, films, and short stories. Elements like character development, scene-setting, and a narrative arc work whether the tale is true or made up. Games, however, are different. "There are characters and stories in games, just like there are characters and stories in linear media, so it feels like you’re dealing with something that’s in the same ballpark,” says Chris Swain, associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Games Institute. “But I actually believe that they’re very different.” Read the full story. Read more