Day(s): R, 10am-1:40pm
Course ID: G54.1182.007
Syllabus: Download PDF
The most ambitious—and rewarding--profiles tell the story not just of a person but of an idea. Such portraits, by urging us to consider their subjects in the context of a body of work or professional discipline, give human form to abstract concepts. The reader comes to understand the profile subject as the embodiment of a culturally significant idea. Realizing such pieces is as difficult as it sounds! The best profiles combine extensive quotation with first-hand observation; salient biographical anecdotes; meticulously researched analyses of the subject’s writings, art work, performances, or public appearances; along with illuminating comments by friends, colleagues, and adversaries—all melded into a single, gripping narrative.
In this course, we’ll tackle the challenges of producing successful profiles, with an emphasis on practical solutions to frequently encountered problems. (Topics will include composing a seductive yet brainy lede, translating jargon and technical arcana for lay readers, wresting vivid scenes from dull subjects, and handling uncooperative subjects.) We’ll study how various journalists, writing about figures in a broad range of fields, from politics and finance to scholarship and the arts, have negotiated the profile’s challenges. We’ll read pieces by the genre’s most talented practitioners and meet some of those journalists in class (including several journalists from The New Yorker). Along the way, students will acquire a sense of the idea profile’s historical trajectory, from its antecedents among New York intellectuals in the 1940s and 1950s and the New Journalism of the 1960s, to its flowering in recent decades, in magazines like Lingua Franca, The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker.
There will be two assignments. The first is a tightly focused, Talk of the Town-style mini-profile (800-900 words), in which students will interview a figure of current cultural importance and, with concision, eloquence, and wit, tell us why this person matters now. The second assignment is a full-length profile (3,500-4,000 words), whose subject will be determined early in the semester and to which students will devote several weeks.
CRC priority; others with permission of instructor.