The Art of the Profile

Friday, May 16th, from 10:00am to 5:00pm
GrubStreet HQ (Remote)
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Level: For Everyone
Adult (18+)
12 seats max

The ability to bring a complicated, three-dimensional human being to life on the page is the cornerstone of good writing. Memoirists, fiction writers, and others writing narrative- and character-driven work have much to learn from journalists about crafting characters from real people. Usually associated with magazine writing, profiles can be crassly consumerist or highly literary; as short as a single paragraph or as long as a multi-volume book; homages or take-downs. Whatever form they take, profiles are portraits of living, breathing human beings, and when we report them and write them (and read them) we grapple with sometimes-contradictory goals. Where do our loyalties lie? With our subject? With our readers? With the story itself? With the “truth”?

Together we will piece apart some classic profiles, such as Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold,” from Esquire, and Marjorie Williams’s “The Wife,” from Vanity Fair, to ask: what is it that makes these pieces successful? What are the details that brought these characters to life, and how did the writers gain access to them? We will look at the writers’ use of dialogue, physical description, scene-setting, historical/cultural research, and third-party interviews, and then use what we learn as the basis for our own writing. 

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Beth Schwartzapfel

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  • The Novel
  • Short Fiction
  • Book-Length Memoir
  • Personal Essay
  • Literary Journalism
  • Young Adult & Children's Literature

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