Before two weeks ago, I had never heard of the term or field of literary journalism. While I had heard of literature, which I associated with written works, and journalism, which I associated with news and reporting, I had never seen the two words combined. However, at the beginning of this quarter, my professor, Dr. Burke introduced us to this area of study through her lectures and examples of her work and research.
To further immerse us in this field, our first essay project of the quarter is to write a journalistic story portraying the way a specific person has been affected by war. When I first told my mom about this project, we both immediately agreed my uncle, a Marine veteran who served in the first Operation Desert Storm, was my best choice as an interview subject. We believed this not only because of his first hand combat experience, but also because his playful personality and love to tell stories leading me to believe he would make a very fun and interesting to interviewee.
The process of preparing for the interview was nothing like I expected. I did not realize the amount of research journalists must put in even before interviewing their subjects. To write good and relevant interview questions, it was extremely helpful to research more about my uncle and the conditions surrounding his war experience. For example, I researched information about the First Gulf War and Desert Storm to gain a better understanding of the general circumstances of the world. However, I also researched smaller and more specific areas such as information about the boot camp he attended, the role of infantrymen, and the layout of a battalion. This information not only helped me to write questions that better pertained to my uncle’s situation, but it also allowed me to better understand my uncle when he spoke using military terms or about specific instances of the war. Researching before hand ultimately relieved pressure when it came time for the actual interview.
Although I felt prepared when I began my interview, it did not go at all as planned. I expected my uncle to be his usual funny and amusing self, but rather he quickly closed up. At first, in talking about boot camp, the conversation came easily. However, as soon as I began questioning him about combat, he tended to answer in short one or two sentence responses and did not go into much detail about the conditions he faced while deployed. Entering the interview, I realized that combat experience is often a very sensitive subject so I tried to tailor my questions away from direct references to killing and death. I wanted to allow my uncle to talk about the things he felt comfortable talking about. But even with these types of questions, I could still sense his discomfort with the topic. His body was turned away from me with only his head turned in my direction to occasionally make eye contact.
While I am not quite done with my literary journalism project and still need to construct my uncle’s story, I am already humbled by this experience. Through this process I have not only gained a better understanding of the great amount work that goes into a journalism piece, but I also have gained a much deeper knowledge of my uncle’s background, far beyond anything I knew prior. In this case, body language and actions were much more informative than his words, and taught me more about the way his past still affects him than any story he could have told.
“Interview Between Businessmen.” Photograph. The Works. 3 November 2015. Web. 10 April 2016.
“Man Being Interrogated.” Photograph. G.I. Jobs. 24 September 2014. Web. 10 April 2016.