It’s hard to imagine what Ernest Hemingway’s novels would have sounded like if he hadn’t honed his sparse writing style as a journalist. It’s even harder to imagine what Hunter S. Thompson’s accounts of 1960s counterculture would have looked like if he hadn’t thought of himself as the main character in a depraved novel. In fact, so many journalists have been novelists (I think of George Orwell, Angela Carter, Nora Ephron, or V.S. Naipaul) or poets (Walt Whitman, Rudyard Kipling, and Djuna Barnes come to mind), that one has to believe there’s something powerful in the pairing.
A cynic might say that these great novelists and poets turned to journalism just to make a living, but that would underestimate the importance of journalism as a creative literary form. It would also fail to recognize the degree to which fiction and poetry inform journalism, and vice versa. The growing literary field of ‘creative nonfiction’ comes out of this recognition, that all three value the power of storytelling to communicate the truth, urgently and clearly.
This is the basic principle behind the new joint Journalism and Creative Writing program – a joint venture between Trent University Durham GTA and Durham College, launching in September 2020. By combining Trent’s expertise in developing critical thinking and communication skills with Durham College’s expertise in television arts and mass media, we hope to train an extraordinary generation of creative writers and thinkers who understand the contemporary media landscape and have the skills to thrive in it.
Journalism has changed a lot since Hunter S. Thompson went on the road with the Hells Angels, even more since Ernest Hemingway reported on the Spanish Civil War. If I were giving contemporary examples of important journalists they probably wouldn’t both be men, for a start, and they probably wouldn’t be working in print, and they’d probably have a range of technical skills that Hemingway and Thompson could never have dreamed of. But they’d be good writers with a commitment to the truth, and that’s what we hope to foster in the Journalism and Creative Writing program.
Applications for the new Journalism and Creative Writing program are now being accepted. Learn more at trentu.ca/futurestudents/journalism.
Dr. Hugh Hodges is a professor of English Literature at Trent University and coordinator of the Journalism and Creative Writing program.