In today’s blog Mieke Bomann, journalist and MFA instructor in profile writing, talks about the role of journalism in civic life, the pleasure of discovering the “meat” of individual lives, and the surprising connection between poetry and narrative nonfiction. Read on to learn how she became a journalist – and what’s next in her writing life.
Can you tell us about your background and your path to becoming a writer?
While I have always written or edited for a living, I have never called myself a writer; mostly, I identify as a journalist. I owe a lot of my motivation and writing skills to great teachers and good editors, an early aversion to authority, and the satisfaction I take in discovering the meat of a person’s work life or lifelong obsession, and then sharing that bit with equally curious readers.
When thinking about a profession after college, I was drawn to both the freedom and privileges that journalism offers. I could make a living by asking interesting people questions about almost anything and, if I did it right, go back to my desk with the ingredients for a story worth reading.
I worked for a couple of newspapers as a city hall and business reporter, and then spent about twenty years going back and forth between freelance writing and editing, and fulltime work for college publications.
What do you see as the role of journalism in today’s society?
There’s a book in that question, but one short answer is that responsible journalism is one of the best tools citizens in a free country have to check the tendency of people in power to seek additional power. The Washington Post puts it even more succinctly on its front page these days: “Democracy dies in darkness.”
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
I am most energized by truly motivated students who use the advantage of their affiliation with Bay Path to dig into unknown territory, and write about people who they might otherwise not have a chance to get to know. I am amazed and humbled by the challenging subjects many students choose to write about. I also love watching students make use of the expertise of their academic cohort to expand their worldview and deepen their stories.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
Consider taking a class in poetry writing. No matter the length of your stories, your prose will likely benefit from the intense understanding of the music in language that poets bring to their craft.
The journalist in me recommends that you write up your notes from an interview as soon as possible because your memory, handwriting, and recording technology are never as reliable as you think.
Finally, taking the time to review the appropriate stylebook and pesky rules of grammar and punctuation will make the journey through your prose much less bumpy for your editor/instructor, who may then reward you with untold riches.
What are you currently at work on?
I am helping to research and write a script for a visitor’s tour of an historic house, owned in the mid-nineteenth century by William Cullen Bryant, a poet and long-time editor of what is now the New York Post. I am also doing some research on humor writing and satire, and thinking about revitalizing my long-neglected gardening blog, which was never particularly funny but really ought to have been.