The Power of Nonfiction Storytelling

ENGL 321/MSCM 360

MW 12:45-2:25; WALH 130

Course description: Advanced seminar in long-form nonfiction writing. Reading and discussion of long-form narratives, generating story ideas, researching, interviewing sources, writing, editing one’s own work and peer editing. Students choose a subject and, over the course of the semester, produce one long story suitable for publication. Students develop skills in critical thinking, face-to-face interaction, and structuring and presenting an idea. Consent of instructor (Barbara Seidman) required. CS (4 credits)

About the Instructor

Chris Ballard is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated and the author of four books, most recently “One Shot at Forever.” He’s written for the New York Times Magazine, had his work anthologized in the Best American Magazine Writing and the Best American Sports Writing, and a number of his stories/books have been optioned for film. He attended Pomona College and received a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University.

Contact Info:



Office Location and Hours:
Walker 126

M 10-11:30, 2:45-4:00

W 10-11:30 AM, 2:45-4:30


For this class, you’ll need the following:

  1. Reporter’s Notebooks – the skinny kind that fit in your back pocket. You can buy them at any office supply store or purchase online for roughly $3 a pop. Here’s an example: http://bit.ly/1KndZIx
  2. Recording Device – Most smart phones function as a decent recorder, either independently or using an app. For iPhones, a good one is iTalk – http://apple.co/1kvwRIu . You can also consider buying a digital recorder. This frees you up to use your phone for other reporting tasks (taking notes, photos,etc) and makes you less reliant on your phone’s battery and storage. A good digital recorder should last years and can hold 20+ hours of audio. It’ll run you between $40-100. You won’t need a lot of bells and whistles. Here’s an example similar to the one I use: http://bit.ly/1KQnWtY
  3. Camera – Your phone should do the trick. (If your phone doesn’t have a camera for some reason, talk to me). You’ll be using the camera for auxiliary reporting – to capture details and scenes in instances when it would take too long to write everything down. I’ve found it also works as a great scanner, to take photos of articles or archival information. On occasion, as with our first assignment, your pictures will be part of the homework.


Laptops are amazing tools. I take mine almost everywhere. They will be essential to your work this semester, for obvious reasons. That said, with a few exceptions, we won’t be using them in class, for two reasons:

  1. Part of reporting is writing notes, out in the field. You’ll be jotting notes in strange places. You’re going to need to devise your own shorthand. Then you’re going to need to go back and enter your scribbled notes into your computer so they’re saved, readable and, just as important, searchable. This is important for more than just practical purposes. Re-reading and entering the notes forces you to go over them. You may add things. You may remember other moments from reporting. You may get ideas about story structure. All of this is a crucial part of the creative process. Gary Smith, the renowned SI writer, called it “doing the notes.”
  2. Laptops and phones are distractions that impede your ability to get the most out of class. The writer Clay Shirky explains this eloquently and convincingly here: https://medium.com/@cshirky/why-i-just-asked-my-students-to-put-their-laptops-away-7f5f7c50f368

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