In his introduction of Henry Finder ’86, English professor Fred Strebeigh recalled that when author Malcolm Gladwell was asked how he gets ideas for his stories, he answered, “I try to cultivate my inner Finder.”
The Poynter Institute hosted a dinner event with Finder on Thursday, who is the editorial director of The New Yorker. The event focused on student works of nonfiction from eight different campus publications. To a crowd of more than 75 attendees, Finder critiqued each work, addressing what each piece would need to meet professional standards. Editors of each respective publication put forward one of their best recent articles that was originally published in Broad Recognition, the News, The New Journal, The Yale Globalist, Yale Scientific Magazine, The Yale Herald, Down Magazine and The Politic.
Topics ranged from the music of Lana Del Rey to bacteria’s effect on drug metabolism. The audience gathered in the Branford common room — Finder’s own residential college during his time at Yale. Many undergraduates sat with plates of food from the dining hall and balanced laptops with links to the eight articles. Finder made clear that nonfiction writing can still share a narrative.
“It’s a false dichotomy that there are essays and there are stories,” he said. “The best essays are stories.”
Each author introduced themselves and their work before Finder critiqued the writer’s piece. Afterwards, Strebeigh closed discussion of the piece, each time offering high praise of a paragraph, sentence or idea.
In the critiques, Finder pointed out ways in which the articles could have expanded upon the topic at hand, allowing the piece to engage a non-Yale audience. He gave common suggestions: broaden the work, deepen the voice, complicate the themes and streamline the structure. He described good journalism as “piecing together disparate elements and finding commonalities and also dissonances.”
Many of Finder’s points focused on searching for the “human drama” and creating a story interesting not only to members of the Yale community but to readers across the nation. He described narrative as the primary mode through which a writer might build a unique and engaging piece.
At certain points, Finder discussed the larger ideas behind the pieces. In these moments, he demonstrated his comprehensive knowledge of a variety of topics in the articles — ranging from microbiomes, west African music and the criminal justice system.
According to Rose Kohler ’23, who attended the event, it was particularly “enlightening to hear comments on how to personalize” and “find the human element” in nonfiction writing. She added that it was “nice to have access to a professional in a field I’m eager to break into.”
Strebeigh praised Yale’s robust undergraduate publications. Finder described this culture as a kind of ecology, explaining that campus publications constitute “a group that sustains itself in all sorts of complex ways.”
All eight articles can be found online at www.strebeigh.com.
The articles were “On Norman F**king Rockwell and the Politics of Americana,” by Caitlyn Clark ’22;“I Saw What I Saw: On this island, a Yale professor sexually harassed a Yale student. Did the University do enough?” by WKND editor Alice Park ’21 and Yale Daily News Magazine co-editors-in-chief Jever Mariwala ’21 and Marisa Peryer ’21; “Coming Home Convicted: Stefon Morant served 21 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Now he’s home—but still fighting to clear his name,” by Keerthana Annamaneni ’20; “Sacred Struggle of Workers in Japan,” by Keigo Nishio ’21; “Blaming Bacteria: The biggest contributor to human drug metabolism isn’t human,” by Kelly Farley ’22; “I Became Queer, I Have Always Been White,” by Kellyn Kusyk ’20; “Araby, Arabesque, and the Aesthetics of Arab-ness,” by Noora Reffat SPH ’20; “Road to Montgomery: A New Memorial Recalls a Maryland Lynching,” by T.C. Martin ’20.
Jack Tripp | firstname.lastname@example.org