From the Noösphere to Out There

Out ThereNew story from the Star Tribune:

Not long after I graduated from college in the mid-1990s, I got a job as a cashier at Midwest Mountaineering, a popular outdoors store in Minneapolis. The best thing about it (apart from the employee discount) was getting to read Outside magazine when business got slow.

In those days Outside’s pages were filled with writers I loved: Jon Krakauer, Tim Cahill, David Quammen. Around that same time, the magazine came out with its first anthology: “Out of the Noösphere.” It was filled with classic stories from the previous two decades. I read my copy until it fell apart.

Since then, Outside has come out with a few other collections, all filled with great stories. This year it published another: “Out There: The Wildest Stories from Outside Magazine,” an assortment of “misadventures.” These include everything from working the “groover” (toilet boat) on a Grand Canyon raft, to canoeing the Mississippi River in a 57-foot flood, to an immersion in the strange world of competitive water sliding.

Most of the stories in “Out There” date from the 2000s, which got me thinking about howOOTN writing on the outdoors has changed over the years. After all, the genre is one of our great traditions, dating back to the likes of Henry David Thoreau, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and others. Yet for much of the 20th century, the writing was dominated by muscular prose, sarcastically described by Cahill, Outside’s co-founder, as “ ‘Man’s Adventure,’ ‘Adventures for Men’ and ‘Man’s Testicles.’ ” In a recent interview, he said the goal in founding the magazine was simply to write, “stories about the outdoors that were literate. That’s all.”

Read the rest here.

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Under Purple Skies: Minneapolis Stories

Next year, Belt Publishing will be compiling an anthology of essays, stories, and poems about Minneapolis as part of its City Anthology Series.

Minneapolis and the surrounding area has emerged as one of the literary centers of the country, and this anthology will mark the advent of the post-Wobegon era. We are looking for stories, scenes and memories from the city that evoke the place in compelling ways. Submissions can be related to a specific place, event (personal or historical) or personage, and must take place in or around the city. St. Paul will also be considered, as will most suburbs.

The anthology will be edited by Frank Bures, author of The Geography of Madness, occasional instructor at the Loft Literary Center, and editor of the Lester Literary Update. An introduction will be written by Star Tribune “Books” editor Laurie Hertzel, author of News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist.

To submit an entry, please see more details here.

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Q&A with David Grann

grann-bookFrom Nieman Storyboard:

David Grann had never heard of the “Osage Murders” until a historian he was talking to mentioned the series of mysterious deaths among members of the wealthy Osage tribe in early 20th century Oklahoma.

When I learned about these crimes several years ago, I was shocked that, like so many Americans, I had never learned about them in school or read about them in books.
Grann, a staff writer at The New Yorker and something of a history writer himself, couldn’t believe that the sinister campaign targeting the oil beneath the Osage reservation land was so little known.  So he started looking into the killings.

There wasn’t much online. No one seemed to have told the victims’ story in a comprehensive way, even though, as Grann puts it, the campaign was “one of the most monstrous crimes in American history.

Read the rest here.

Brand You: Questioning Self-Promotion

jf16_coverFrom last year in Poets & Writers, now online:

It should be said that writers have always been keen self-promoters, as Tony Perrottet pointed out in a New York Times article: In 440 BCE, Herodotus shilled his Histories to wealthy patrons at the Olympics. In 1887, Guy de Maupassant flew a hot-air balloon featuring the name of his latest short story. Walt Whitman wrote anonymous reviews of his work, declaring, “An American bard at last!”

But at the end of the twentieth century something changed, something deep. In an influential article titled “The Brand Called You,” published by Fast Company in 1997, Tom Peters admonished not just corporations, not just celebrities, but everyone to think of themselves as a brand, to promote themselves as a brand, and to see life and work as an endless branding opportunity.

This has come to pass. Today, it’s accepted that anyone with a pulse and a keyboard can and should promote anything that comes to mind. As a result, most of us are drowning in a promotional tsunami. It can feel like a crushing weight, like social media has become a giant pyramid scheme in which we are all selling some idea of ourselves, even as we struggle to believe our own marketing.

Read the rest here.

New Nonfiction Class

imagesThis winter, I’ll be teaching a small online class through The Loft Literary Center. In the past I’ve taught classes on narrative nonfiction, freelancing, profile writing, travel writing and other subjects. This course is designed both for people starting out and for those who want to shift career directions. We will focus on any genre students want to work on and cover practical skills of reporting, structuring your stories and selling your work. The ultimate goal of of the class is to finish with at least two polished, professional clips to use and sell. Please contact me if you want more info: Nonfiction Intensive: Building Your Portfolio

 

On Frankenwords or The Love Song of David Shing

rotarian_jan16These days, we’re all becoming Humpty Dumpty:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean— neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – – that’s all.”

–Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)

In The Rotarian this month, I have a column about the growing distance between words and their meanings, something that often fills me with despair. It’s not a new phenomenon: Orwell wrote about it in his 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language.” But it is, I fear, a problem that has ballooned with the Internet and the surplus of words in our lives. Today we live in a world where “shredding papers” is “document management,” where “failure” is “deferred success,” and where “surveillance” is  “data collection.” Maybe that’s just the invisible hand at work, but for what it’s worth, read on here.

On The Pitfalls of Self-Promotion

jf16_coverI’m not sure that I should be considered any sort of “branding expert,” but I do have an essay in the current Poets & Writers on my ambivalence about self-promotion, and the struggle to balance promoting your work with promoting yourself. See the print edition if you can get it!