Roy Peter Clark

Roy has taught writing at every level--to school children and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors--for more than 30 years, and has spoken about the writer's craft on The Oprah Winfrey Show, NPR and Today; at conferences from Singapore to Brazil; and at news organizations from The New York Times to the Sowetan in South Africa. He is the author of "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer," the book and the blog.


Maya Angelou speaks on race relations at Congregation B’nai Israel and Ebenezer Baptist Church on Jan. 16, 2014 in Boca Raton, Florida. (AP Photo/Jeff Daly/Invision)

What journalists can learn about authorship from Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou speaks on race relations at Congregation B’nai Israel and Ebenezer Baptist Church on Jan. 16, 2014 in Boca Raton, Florida. (AP Photo/Jeff Daly/Invision)

In 2006 the Canadian scholar Stuart Adam and I co-edited a collection of essays titled “Journalism: The Democratic Craft.” It is a rich — and largely unread — anthology of work that reflects on the key aspects of knowledge that fuel the activities we describe as “journalism.”

The essays consider the essential elements of the practice: from news and evidence, to language and narrative, to analysis and interpretation. Stuart and I begin the collection with six essays on “Authorship and Craft,” written by writers as diverse as George Orwell, V.S. Naipaul, Joan Didion, Salman Rushdie, and Robert Stone.

Toward the end of the process, I stumbled upon an interview with a famous author I found so compelling, so writerly — if there is such a word — that I argued for its inclusion.… Read more

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Joe Maddon_AP

Great journalist or great manager: Who would you prefer for a boss?

I am going to begin this essay on leadership with an extended baseball analogy. I realize that this will make my argument sound “gendered,” and not in a good way, but I’ll take my chances.

There are a lot of good baseball managers out there, and one of them is Joe Maddon, skipper of our local team the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays are struggling this year with injuries to their pitching staff, but under Maddon’s leadership they have become – with one of the lowest salary budgets – one of the consistently best teams in baseball.

There are lots of reasons for this success. One of them is Maddon. Players like to play for him. He has high standards for his players. He demands maximum effort.… Read more

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The Pyramid of Journalism Competence: what journalists need to know

What does a journalist need to know?

What defines “competence” in journalism?

When you graduate from a journalism school, what should you know how to do?

In the digital age, the answers to those questions are more important than ever. For more than three decades now, they have been near the center of conversation and debate at Poynter. Before we could figure out what to teach, we needed to understand – in the public interest – what journalists needed to learn.

This process was energized in 1997 by a call to action from Tom Rosenstiel, one of the leaders of a group called the Committee of Concerned Journalists. Over the next two years, the committee conducted “21 public forums attended by 3,000 people and involving testimony from more than 300 journalists,” according to the book “The Elements of Journalism” by Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach.… Read more

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In this image taken from video, Monica Lewinsky embraces President Clinton as he greeted well-wishers at a White House lawn party in Washington Nov. 6, 1996. (AP Photo/APTV)

Lewinsky and Clinton: how their affair redefined our sexual culture

Monica Lewinsky is back in public view with an essay in Vanity Fair. Her reflections, tinged as they are with sexual scandal and the presidency, still fascinate. To the extent that they precede a presidential run by Hillary Clinton, they will be used to fuel the arguments of antagonistic political operatives.

My hope is that journalists and other commentators will not limit themselves to the political frame of this story. As I revisit the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal (how strange it still feels to attach the name of a president with that of an intern), I am reminded how transformative it was not just to our political life, but to our sexual culture as well. I’m tempted to say that the scandal helped redefine sexual intimacy in America.… Read more

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When cows type: the power of the written word

My friend and Poynter colleague Chip Scanlan has called me many things over the years, including “a Philistine with a Ph.D.” I resemble that remark. In fact, I celebrate the seeming contradiction. I grew up in a working-class, television-drenched culture that immersed me in the world of The Three Stooges, roller derby, and Little Richard. On a parallel track, I experienced an elite parochial school education that pointed higher and higher to a world in which I could speak easily about Shakespeare, Aquinas, and T.S. Eliot.

One practical effect of this duality: I am never surprised by the diverse sources of enlightenment. It may come from a strange inning in a baseball game; a subway map; a Latin inscription atop an academic building; a 700-page novel; a ship’s manifest from Ellis Island; a tweet; a fortune cookie; a children’s book.… Read more

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The Shakespeare sentence that changed my writing – and can change yours

Although we do not know the exact day William Shakespeare was born, we celebrate his birthday on April 23, which brings us to the 450th anniversary of his birth. Since many of us will not be residents of this distracted globe when Will’s big 5-0-0 comes around, we should do our best to praise him now, and as often as we can for as long as we can. There is no one like him.

Those of us who have read my books or attended my classes know that I have a favorite Shakespeare sentence. It comes from “Macbeth” – or as those superstitious thespians refer to it, the “Scottish Play.” Lady Macbeth dies off stage, unable to wash the blood from her hands, no doubt. A messenger approaches Macbeth with the news.… Read more

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Marquez_AP

Making the familiar strange: the legacy of journalist and novelist Gabriel García Márquez

This morning, on the front page of the Tampa Bay Times, I read the news that Gabriel García Márquez has died at the age of 87. He was a towering literary figure of the last century, journalist, novelist, essayist, public intellectual, and Nobel laureate. His fiction became a pillar in a literary movement known as “magical realism,” an oxymoron that elevated the work of a school of South American authors and gained it global attention.

A journalist at heart who wrote for newspapers in Colombia during the 1950s, Márquez expressed dissatisfaction with the “magical” part of the literary equation, arguing that every word he had ever written was grounded in experience.

Colette Bancroft, book editor of the Tampa Bay Times, included in her tribute to Márquez, the author’s most famous passage, the first sentences of his novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. 

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Why no Pulitzer Prize for feature writing? Here are four theories

Once again the Pulitzer Prize board has decided to withhold a prize – this time in the category of feature writing. It is in our nature as journalists to wonder why. When this news hit the streets, I tracked down the three stories selected as finalists and tried to read into them any deficiency that might disqualify them as prize-worthy. This is not the way I like to read.

What follows is not a reported piece but an exercise in mind-reading. I have been a Pulitzer juror on four occasions — twice as chair of jury for general nonfiction books, once in commentary, and once in feature writing. The year I sat on the feature writing jury, the board chose not to select any of our three finalists, but picked a winner from another category, something that they could have done this year, but chose not to.… Read more

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What it takes to create a new kind of journalism

During the night, I tossed and turned over this question: What does it take to create something new in journalism and make it stick? The question was inspired by a Jay Rosen post tracking the progress of Nate Silver’s new ESPN venture called “FiveThirtyEight” (the number of votes in the Electoral College). I glanced at the alarm clock. It said – I am not making this up, Dave Barry – 5:38. It was a sign.

So if Silver’s efforts represent a body of work – data journalism – what exactly is it? Where does it fit in the history of other analogous journalism inventions? At first glance, data journalism is bigger than a genre, more transcendent than a beat. The word “form” feels too squishy, so allow me to call it a mode.… Read more

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Books

Why these are the ‘Ten Best Sentences’

The editors of American Scholar have chosen “Ten Best Sentences” from literature, and readers have suggested many more. They threw in an eleventh for good measure. This lovely feature caught me in the middle of a new book project, “Art of X-ray Reading,” in which I take classic passages such as these and look beneath the surface of the text. If I can see the machinery working down there, I can reveal it to writers, who can then add to their toolboxes.

With respect and gratitude to American Scholar, I offer brief interpretations below on how and why these sentences work:

Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.Read more

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