Literary Reportage

Prospective applicants, please read this letter from Lit Rep Program Director Robert Boynton

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About the Program

Journalism schools produce good reporters; MFA programs train beautiful writers. In Literary Reportage, we combine the best of both. We will teach you how to transform your passions into well reported, thoroughly researched, beautifully expressed journalism. Literary Reportage students pursue their own long form projects, mentored by veteran writers in reporting classes, literature seminars, writing workshops and master classes taught by working editors.

We’ll teach you how to do what Tom Wolfe once termed “stylish reporting,” how to master the art of the interview, and then go beyond it. We have a much more expansive conception of reporting than other programs. Literary Reportage students cover every subject imaginable: a meditation on the nature of trails; an exploration of the underground world; an investigation of the political and real estate corruption behind the construction of Yankee Stadium; the search for a New York writer who vanished half a century ago. Perhaps you will become a participant-observer in order to tell the inside story. Or maybe you have a strong personal connection to your story, and choose to fashion it as a kind of memoir. Or maybe your advantage will come from the intensive research you do, whether in government archives or libraries.

We embrace all forms of nonfiction. But Literary Reportage distinguishes itself from other programs by stressing the value of examining personal experience through the reporting and research that comes from the world outside one’s head. That way, when you sit down to fashion your narrative, you’ll have a richer set of materials to work with, and a greater chance of publishing your work in professional venues, whether while at NYU or beyond. The Literary Reportage faculty and alumni network will introduce you to editors at every publication imaginable. So far, the program has produced five books, each of which came directly out of the participant’s final thesis.

How do you apply? You will submit a sample of your existing work (articles, blogs, videos, podcasts, essays–published or not), and a description of the kind of project you want to pursue while at NYU. Your passions and obsessions are valuable, they are what make for good writing. We want to hear know more about them. Think big, but also think concretely: What particular works or authors have inspired you and your project? What journalistic forms could you imagine it taking? What models do you have in mind?

Projects can be local, national, or international in scope. But since much of your reporting will be done while in residence at NYU, your project should have some kind of a NYC dimension. Some students divide their time between their final international or national project and its local iterations. You can write about domesticating foxes in Siberia, but should connect it to pet fox sales in New York City. A lot of travel and reporting can be accomplished during summers and other breaks. Be aware that access is important. You can’t report on a subject if your subject won’t talk to you. We don’t care if you change your mind later – experimentation is part of the idea. Your project will become clearer once you’ve worked on it with our faculty and your colleagues.

That goes for form, as well: Some Literary Reportage students want to write books and articles, while others want to produce audio podcasts and even video documentaries. You will learn how to work in all of these forms. Much of the best literary reportage today is appearing on audio podcasts like This American Life, Serial, 99% Invisible and Radiolab. And there have never been so many opportunities to publish, and get jobs, in the podcast world. We have integrated audio storytelling into the program, and every Literary Reportage student takes two week-long audio crash courses–one immediately before the start of the fall semester, and another immediately before the start of the spring semester. We also offer semester-long audio courses and free weekend skills courses throughout the year. But the most important thing we teach is how think in terms of “stories.” Rigorously reported, well-researched, imaginative, artfully written stories.

How does Literary Reportage work?

The courses are divided between journalism seminars and writing workshops. The first semester leans toward the former, while the remaining semesters leans toward the latter. For an overview of the curriculum click here.

Literary Reportage became a full-fledged concentration in 2009, growing out of the Portfolio honors track, in which students learned how to build a coherent body of work over the course of two semesters. It worked well, and we suspected it would work even better if students applied with projects already in mind and had more time to complete their work.

How does Literary Reportage differ from other the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute’s other concentrations and programs? Our applicants must apply with a project in mind and, produce a master’s project in their fourth and final semester, during which you need not be in residence.

Final Projects

Here are some of the thesis projects Literary Reportage students have produced.

  • “Zero Feet Away: Growing Up Gay in the Era of Hookup Apps”
  • “Lazy Lawn: 300 Years in the Life of an American Summer Home”
  • “The Money of Mindfulness: How Meditation Became a Billion Dollar American Industry”
  • “Maryhouse and Me: A search for Dorothy Day in her last house of hospitality”
  • “Broken Hearts, Breaking Silence: How Syrian Tragedy Sparked a Revolution in Mental Health”
  • “The Underground Railroad to Freedom: How North Korean Refugees Journey to America”
  • “Me, My Ovary & My Quest to Confront Fertility”
  • “Killing the Pain: Surviving the Family Heroin Addict”
  • “This Body of Decay: Life After the Valley Fire”
  • “Nationalism and Identity: Zionism’s Monolithic conception of Jewish culture”
  • “The Life Of Being Here, Nothing But Being Here,” a report on suicide prevention hotlines
  • “Duels of Discourse,” the story of Brooklyn’s best debating team
  • “We Come Spinning Out of Nothingness: Love and Trouble in Mumbai,” on marriage and relationships in modern India
  • “Hubble’s Last Hope,” on the final push to save the stellar telescope and the future of human spaceflight
  • “The Art of Vanishing,” on the disappearance of Barbara Newhall Follett
  • “Salt My Brain,” a memoir about lithium and manic-depression
  • “A Church Grows in Brooklyn,” about the modern church planting movement
  • “The Blues is my Soulmate,” the struggle of an Indian Mississippi Blues band
  • “Journeywoman: A female boxer’s uphill battle”
  • “Beer and Sympathy: The life and times of dollar-a-dance girls in Queens”
  • “What Nice, Middle Class Girls Don’t Do: A sex worker and college student tries to shake the stigma”
  • “Rusty Old Steam Pipes: Hawai’i’s quest to bring its prisoners back from the mainland”
  • “Going to Zero: The Music Maker Movement”
  • “We Were All Going To Be Queens,” a reported memoir about the Catholic cult Regnum Christi
  • “Ballerina 2.0,” about dancer Drew Jacoby’s use of new media for self-promotion
  • “Mother of Invention,” a reported memoir about a single woman’s decision to have a child
  • “On Trails,” a meditation on the twists and turns of human navigation
  • “Alone in America,” a report on Korean students studying abroad
  • “Sikhing for God,” a report on a New Mexican yoga cult
  • “Wrecking the House that Ruth Built,” a proposal, sample chapter and outline for a book about corruption and Yankee Stadium
  • “Christianity 2.0,” a report on home worship and the reaction against the mega-church phenomenon
  • “When the Facts of Life Aren’t Facts,” a report on sex education for students with special needs

Recent Published Work

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Program News

A conversation about the future of literary reportage with Roberto Herrscher

Jorge University, Zaragoza, Spain, June 2015

Congratulations to Natalie Lampert

Winner of the 2015 Postgraduate scholarship from the Kentucky Women Writers Conference.

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