Nonfiction Workshop

ENG 613D Non-Fiction Creative Writing Workshop W3:30-6:00 S. Shankar

Cultural Journalism

What is cultural journalism? This is the salient question, approached from the perspective of practice, at the heart of this course. “Cultural Journalism” refers broadly to explorations in various media of cultural issues, phenomena, texts, figures and contexts for a non-specialized audience. This course however focuses on writing in print and online. In writing, cultural journalism ranges from short forms like the traditional review and the more recent blog through longer forms like substantial article-length profiles, review articles and reporting on cultural trends to book-length studies. What unites these forms is a focus on culture broadly construed and a mode of writing that is aimed at a general audience. The cultural context to Mormon worship in Hawai’i; the rise in popularity of “affect theory” within the academy; a cultural introduction to Taipei as a travel destination; the origins of tourist memorabilia sold in Waikiki; trends in contemporary American fiction; a personal profile of a cultural icon; the meanings of race in Trump’s America: these, in addition to traditional evaluative genres such as book reviews, are examples of a contemporary cultural journalism.

The goal of the course is to prepare students to engage with this wide domain of writing through both short and long forms. At the end of the course, students will have read texts contextualizing contemporary journalism as well as examples of cultural journalism ranging from the short review to book-length studies. Rather than reading, the focus of the course, however, is decidedly on writing. Students will do several assignments ranging from the length of the typical op-ed (600-800 words) to articles thousands of words long. Taken together the assignments will require research either in an archive or in the field or both. For their assignments, students will be asked to write in different genres–for example, a profile of a musician based on interviews as well as a review article on several books introducing and exploring a concept. There will be considerable emphasis on drafting and revision. The writings will be workshopped–in a way appropriate to the size of the class–and eventually published either in outside venues or on a website that the students in the class will collectively conceptualize and create. The creation of the website is a required assignment.

There will be occasional guest speakers, both local and visiting.

As indicated, this course is an introduction to cultural journalism in written form. However, students who demonstrate appropriate prior expertise may be allowed to substitute audio or video forms for some of the assignments.


Student Learning Outcomes

Students will—

Develop an understanding of the discipline of English and its relationship to other disciplines (Cultural Journalism and Non-Fiction Creative Writing)

Develop an understanding of advanced research methods and creative techniques in relation to Cultural Journalism and Non-Fiction Creative Writing

Develop an understanding of popular forms of Cultural Criticism

Develop the ability to demonstrate advanced critical analysis of the history and craft of Non-Fiction Creative Writing

Develop the ability to map, historicize, and contextualize the history and craft of Cultural Journalism

Develop advanced creative writing skills for publication



  1. Formal Individual Assignments (these will go through a rigorous drafting and workshop process):

Three short pieces (600-800 words)(op-ed; book-, movie-, music-, or video-game review; blog; event report or preview; etc.–of these one will require the student to attend an event or visit a site in person) 30% of the grade

Two long pieces (2500 words each)(profile; interview; feature article; travel essay; review article; etc.) 50% of the grade

  1. Collective Assignment: The class as a whole will create a website on which all or a selection of the pieces will be published. 10% of the grade
  2. Regular informal responses to readings. These are required but will not be graded. Along with class participation: 10% of the grade


Required Texts

Beyond News: The Future of Journalism, by Mitchell Stephens (2014)

All That Is Solid Melts into Air, by Marshal Berman (1988)

Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music (Fifth Edition), by Greil Marcus (2008)

The Beauty Myth (Tenth Anniversary Edition), Naomi Wolf (2002)

PDFs of older as well as recent short cultural journalistic pieces by Naomi Klein, Edward Said, Pauline Kael, Roland Barthes, Michael Lewis, Thomas Friedman and others culled from both print sources such as books, The New Yorker, The Nation and Honolulu Magazine as well as online sources such as Civil Beat, Salon and Jacobin.