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Samuel Freedman joins SJMC, Dept. of English as Cowles Visiting Professor

Award-winning New York Times columnist, author and professor will teach Literary Aspects of Journalism
September 16, 2016

Samuel Freedman, an award-winning columnist at The New York Times, author and professor, has joined the University of Minnesota School of Journalism & Mass Communication (SJMC) and the Department of English for the fall semester as a Cowles Visiting Professor. Freedman is on leave from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

“We are delighted to have Sam join SJMC while he is on leave from his academic home at Columbia University to write his important new book about Hubert H. Humphrey,” said Albert Tims, director of SJMC.

During the appointment, Freedman will teach Literary Aspects of Journalism (JOUR 5606W). The course explores the relationship between factual reporting and narrative techniques associated with fiction. The material and content are similar to the legendary book writing class Freedman has taught at Columbia University since 1991. More than 80 book deals have come out of the seminar.

The goal of JOUR 5606W is not to score a publishing deal, however. Freedman said the goal is for students to leave the course with an understanding of the tradition of narrative non-fiction, as well as learning how to report and write a long-form piece of narrative non-fiction. Students will read exemplary works of narrative non-fiction from the likes of  J.Anthony Lukas, Emily Raboteau, and Julie Otsuka, as well as essays by such literary journalists as Tom Wolfe. The class will also meet with the documentary filmmaker June Cross.

“The work we do now is part of the literary and journalist tradition. It is important for us to understand who the forbearers were in that work and to see where on the continuum we are,” Freedman said. “In that respect, it is very much like an English class in that we are really looking at text and learning from it and trying to understand the literary tradition. The second goal of the class is to implement that; take what we learned from the tradition and apply it to our own work.”

Freedman is in Minneapolis researching a new book on Hubert H. Humphrey’s early political career. He is the author of eight acclaimed books, most recently “Dying Words," about the groundbreaking AIDS journalist Jeff Schmalz.

He was a staff writer for The New York Times from 1981 through 1987 and currently writes the column “On Religion.” His “On Education” column, which ran in The New York Times from 2004 to 2008, won first prize in the Education Writers Association’s writing competition. Freedman was a regular columnist for the Jerusalem Post and has contributed to other publications and websites, including the New Yorker, Daily Beast, New York Post, Rolling Stone, USA Today, Salon, Tablet, The Forward and BeliefNet.

Department of English Chair Andrew Elfenbein said students will gain invaluable guidance and insight from one of the world’s foremost authors and journalists.

"In his best-selling books and The New York Times articles, Sam has written eloquently and poignantly about the intersection of religion, politics, and race in the US. We're thrilled to have him working with our graduate students this semester to expand and deepen the stories they are striving to tell."