Michael Lesy, professor of literary journalism, received a B.A. in theoretical sociology at Columbia University, an M.A. in American social history at the University of Wisconsin, and a Ph.D. in American cultural history at Rutgers University.
He has published 13 books of history, biography, and narrative nonfiction. Professor Lesy's most recent book, Repast: Dining Out at the Dawn of the New American Century, 1900-1910 (2013), written in collaboration with his wife, Lisa Stoffer, was inspired by the New York Public Library's Buttolph Menu Collection.
Many of his books have been based on historic photographs, gathered in archives; several have been based on oral histories, gathered during fieldwork. Professor Lesy's first book, Wisconsin Death Trip, has remained in print since 1973. Professor Lesy's book, Murder City (2007), grew out of a Hampshire College tutorial.
Professor Lesy's books have been made into operas, plays, dance performances, and films. In 2007, the United States Artists Foundation named Professor Lesy its first Simon Fellow. In 2013, he was the recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship.
Literary journalism encompasses a variety of genres, including portrait/biography, memoir, and investigation of the social landscape. Literary journalism uses such devices as plot, character, and dialogue to tell true stories about a variety of real worlds. By combining evocation with analysis, immersion with investigation, literary journalism tries to reproduce the complex surfaces and depth of people, places, and events. Books to be read will include: The JOHN McPHEE READER, Dexter Filkin's THE FOREVER WAR, and Wilkerson's THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS. Students will be asked to produce weekly, non-fiction narratives based on encounters with local scenes, situations and people. Mid-term and Final writing projects will be based on the fieldwork and short, non-fiction narratives that students will produce, week after week. Fieldwork will demand initiative, patience, curiosity, empathy, and guts. The writing itself will have to be excellent. Core requirementts are: (1) Meeting weekly deadlines and (2) Being scrupulously well-read and well-prepared for class.
This is a research course for intellectuals who are artists and artists who are intellectuals. The course has two goals. (First) To understand the Nineteen Twenties in America as an era whose excesses and preoccupations were nothing but a dance of death performed at the edge of a mass grave containing the bodies of seven million soldiers, and fifty million civilians, killed during the pandemic that followed the war. To carry-out their investigations, students will (1) sift through large collections of on-line archival photographs (for example: The Caufield and Shook Collection at the University of Louisville), and (2) read a variety of primary and secondary written sources (newspapers, novels, and biographies). (Second) To teach students how to find and use whatever array of primary written and visual documents they find to build image/text narratives that, like documentary films, tell true stories in artful and analytic ways. This course has no prerequisites. However, its Midterm and Final projects will require extensive and intensive, self-initiated research. Insight, intelligence, and curiosity will be rewarded.
This is a research course for intellectuals who are artists and artists who are intellectuals. The course has two goals: (First) To investigate life in the U.S., 1890-1910, an era whose inequities and injustices, inventions and ambitions, panics and disasters eerily resemble our own. Students will sift through collections of archival photographs and an array of primary and secondary written documents to carry out their investigations. Photographs will come from large, on-line, archival collections; newspapers and novels published during the era will serve as primary written sources. (Second) To teach students how to discover and then use visual and written documents to build image/text narratives that, like documentary films, tell true stories about a tumultuous era that gave birth to what now passes for modern life. Prerequisite: Secondary school Advanced Placement(AP) American history and/or American literature.Or: Introductory/Survey college courses in American/European history or American/European literature.
Professor of Literary Journalism
Mail Code CS
Adele Simmons Hall 210
893 West Street
Amherst, MA 01002