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Society & Culture - Science & Technology

How to Write True Stories about Science and Society: The ‘Godfather of Creative Nonfiction’ Joins Drexel for Workshop

October 23, 2014

Lee Gutkind, founder of the literary magazine Creative Nonfiction, will join Drexel Nov. 3
Lee Gutkind, founder of the literary magazine Creative Nonfiction, will join Drexel Nov. 3

Have you ever written a report or scholarly paper and struggled with how to share your findings outside of your academic field? Or have you had to translate other people's research for the general public and found it to be challenging?

Lee Gutkind, “the ‘Godfather’ behind creative nonfiction” (Vanity Fair), will join Drexel University on Monday, Nov. 3 from 2 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. for a workshop and discussion to help faculty, students and other scholars, researchers and academics learn how to write about their research for a broad audience.

The event aims to help those who have a passion to share their knowledge outside of the classroom, laboratory or institution to communicate their ideas to the public in order to advance knowledge and create new dialogue.

Entitled “True Stories Well Told—About Science and Society,” the event will take place at Drexel University’s ExCITe Center, Suite 100 (3401 Market St). It is free and open to the public. Attendees should RSVP by emailing their name and contact information to Irene Cho at irene.cho@drexel.edu.

“Research demonstrates that people remember more information—longer—and are more easily persuaded to accept ideas and take action when that information is communicated in true stories and real life scenes,” said Gutkind.  “I am hoping to make the challenge of turning research—information that might be difficult for the public to appreciate or understand—into stories that compel and inform.”

Gutkind is the founder of the literary magazine Creative Nonfiction, the first and largest literary magazine to publish narrative nonfiction exclusively, and the author or editor of more than 30 books. He is currently the distinguished writer in residence at the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes and professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University.

Gutkind's most recent book has been called “the essential and definitive guide to creative nonfiction"
Gutkind's most recent book has been called “the essential and definitive guide to creative nonfiction"

His most recent book, “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction—from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between” has been called “the essential and definitive guide to creative nonfiction . . . engaging, useful, indispensable and inspiring.”

Gutkind also co-founded Think Write Publish, an innovative program funded by the National Science Foundation, which brings together early-career science and innovation policy scholars and creative nonfiction writers to learn from one another and to write true stories—creative nonfiction essays—that communicate important issues in science policy to a broad general audience.

“While the message is always the mission for the writer-communicator—the messenger, the vehicle through which the message is communicated—the story—makes the vital writer-reader-audience connection,” Gutkind said. “We often need a story to bring the reader to the table to listen and to learn.”

From 2 p.m. – 3:30 p.m., Gutkind will provide a tutorial on the art, the craft, the challenges and the techniques of creative/narrative nonfiction in a workshop entitled “Writing True Stories: Turning Research into Real Life Through Narrative.”

During the workshop, Gutkind will discuss the process of writing true stories, from finding the story, to recreating scenes and building a scene-by-scene structure that is informative and compelling to read. Participants will learn how to read with a writer’s eye and recognize structural patterns through Gutkind’s “yellow test” formula. Writing techniques like dialogue, flash descriptions, inner point of view—and the art and challenge of imbedding information in story—will be explained and illustrated. 

Gutkind recently gave this presentation to sold-out crowds in Washington DC at the National Academy of Sciences in June and at the National Press Club in Washington.

Following the workshop, several former and current fellows from Think Write Publish will discuss their work and experiences from 3:30 p.m. – 5 p.m. in a session entitled, “How We Collaborate and Connect—The Process and the Impact of Infusing Policy into Narrative.”

Former Think Write Publish fellow Gwen Ottinger, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of History & Politics in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences, and current fellow David Schleifer, PhD, a senior research associate for Public Agenda, will discuss their science story “What Fish Oil Pills Are Hiding: One Woman’s Quest to Save the Chesapeake Bay from the Dietary Supplement Industry.” Fellows Brian Kahn, web editor for Climate Central, and Emily Fertig, a PhD candidate in engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, will discuss their piece, “Ice, Ice Maybe: Glaciers are Growing in the Himalayas. What Does that Mean for Climate Policy?”

“As academics, we are trained to work in arguments that are composed of a thesis followed by evidence,” said Ottinger. “The evidence we use often takes the form of real people doing things, but our structure puts the argument first  and the people second. What narrative nonfiction does is says, let’s talk about people first - who they are, where they are, what they are struggling with and what their pivotal moments are. By showing the reader what that was like and how it played out, we can reveal a bigger theme, a bigger meaning, in this case about science and policy. With the broader public, it’s the stories that have currency and are going to convince people. So for those of us who want our academic work to have influence, flipping that structure and prioritizing the narrative arch instead of the argument is really important. It’s a genre that we who want to do publicly relevant work need to have in our tool kits.”

At 5 p.m., a reception will celebrate the release of two new magazine issues: the special Think Write Publish edition of Creative Nonfiction magazine, entitled “Telling Stories That Matter,” and the summer issue of Issues in Science and Technology. Complimentary issues of the magazines will be available. Refreshments will be served.

This event is co-sponsored by Drexel's Center for Science, Technology and Society and the ExCITe Center, and Arizona State University's Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes. This project is funded in-part by the US National Science Foundation (Award#1149107). Any findings, observations or opinions expressed are those of the principal investigators.

About Lee Gutkind
Lee Gutkind is the author or editor of more than 30 books and founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction, the first and largest literary magazine to publish narrative nonfiction exclusively. He is Distinguished Writer-in-Residence in the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University and a professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. Gutkind has lectured to audiences around the world—from China to the Czech Republic, from Australia to Africa to Egypt.  He has appeared on many national radio and televisions shows, including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central), Good Morning America, National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation and All Things Considered, as well as BBC World. Gutkind is the recipient of grants and awards from many different organizations, from the National Endowment for the Arts to the National Science Foundation. A prolific author, his most recent books include  You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, An Immense New Power to Heal: The Promise of Personalized Medicine and an anthology, At the End of Life: True Stories About How We Die.

About Think Write Publish
Think Write Publish is an innovative program, funded by the National Science Foundation, which brings together early-career science and innovation policy scholars and creative nonfiction writers to learn from one another and to write true stories—creative nonfiction essays—that communicate important issues in science policy to a broad general audience. The stories on this website are the result of a rigorous collaborative process that included two week-long workshops; each story was conceived, researched and written by a writer-scholar team over the course of 18 months, with input from mentors and editors. The program was developed and implemented by Lee Gutkind and David Guston of the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes, at Arizona State University. For more information, visit www.thinkwritepublish.org.

Media Contact:

Alex McKechnie

news@drexel.edu

215-895-2705