Professor of Literary Journalism
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 spoken language 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 depths of people, places, and events. Books to be read may include: Stein's EDIE, Sack's AWAKENINGS, Finkel's THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, 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 the short, non-fiction narratives that students will have produced, week after week. Fieldwork will demand initiative, patience, curiosity, empathy, and guts. The writing itself will have to be excellent. Core requirements 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 will focus on the Nineteen Twenties as an era whose excesses and preoccupations were dances of death performed at the edge of a mass grave containing the bodies of the seven million soldiers and fifty million civilians, who died in the war and in the pandemic that followed. To carry-out their investigations, students will (1) sift through massive collections of on-line archival photographs; (2) read a variety of primary and secondary written sources (newspapers, novels, and biographies);(3) use whatever array of written and visual documents they discover to build image/text sequences that, like scenes in a documentary film, tell true stories in artful and analytic ways. Midterm and Final projects will require immersive, self-initiated research. Hard work and originality will be rewarded.