Content Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Four more years

November 7, 2012 | 16 Comments

Means, ends & inner narratives in the 2012 presidential campaign. Barack Obama was mocked by Republicans when, late in the campaign just ended, he blamed his struggle to dominate Mitt Romney on his failure to provide Americans with a compelling narrative. I couldn’t help but agree. And yet I wonder if even a writer as talented as Obama can do anything more than animate his partisans’ own existing narratives. Romney’s narrative was widely exposed, commented upon, and derided as a …

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Undercurrents in narrative essays

February 5, 2012 | 4 Comments

I admit, I told a class last semester, that we read stories for various reasons, including intrinsic interest. “If you score an interview with Barack Obama,” I said, “you can lean pretty heavily on that. But otherwise, stories that grip us involve some tension—a conflict or question.” How to get this across to students—and to myself—keeps me occupied. And it devils me when I receive a student’s personal narrative that lacks any urgency or even movement. Or when I churn out one myself.

Such flat writing flunks the “So What?” test. Bruce Ballenger writes in Crafting Truth: Short Studies in Creative Nonfiction:

The simple question, What is going to happen next? is triggered by the tension between what readers know and what they want to know. This is the most familiar dramatic tension in storytelling.

Of course, Ballenger adds, withholding information can seem manipulative, since readers know that the writer knows the outcome. Narrative alone isn’t enough:

Ultimately the work has to answer a simple question: So what? Or as Philip Gerard suggested, What is at stake here? Why might this story matter to the reader? What is at stake for the writer or the characters? Is there a larger truth that will somehow matter?

Questions or mysteries drive effective writing more than a mere narrative of events. E.M. Forster puts it this way in Aspects of the Novel: “ ‘The king died and then the queen died’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief’ is a plot.” And a plot with a mystery in it is “a form capable of high development,” Forster adds: “The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king.”

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With a song in our hearts

December 13, 2010 | 9 Comments

Touring mainland China with a college choir stirs the spirit. The consciousness of divinity is divinity itself. The more we wake to holiness, the more of it we give birth to, the more we introduce, expand, and multiply it on earth, the more “God is on the field.”—Annie Dillard, For the Time Being (page 40; reviewed previously) I’ve just returned from ten days in mainland China, touring with Otterbein University’s choir, which gave concerts in Beijing, Tianjin, and Xi’an. We got …

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Obama’s ‘Dreams from My Father’

September 30, 2010 | 4 Comments

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama. Three Rivers Press, 457 pages I’ve written about Barack Obama a couple times on this blog. In “Narrative Nation” I explored the meta-meaning of his presidential campaign; in “Behind the Barn” I told how my wife’s family’s barn in northwestern Ohio became one of only about three “Obama Barns” in the entire state. Now I’ve finally read Obama’s first book, his memoir, Dreams from My Father, and …

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Narrative nation

October 21, 2008 | 5 Comments

A new story rises: Obama’s ascent Literature is fragrant with the compost of human misery. With the never-ending story of our impossible burden. With our failure to reach our promise and with our effort to redeem. Journalism, catching history on the fly, is at its best when it holds our stated ideals (the Constitution, say) beside our practice. When it tugs at the sleeve. Truth be told, though, the press’s daily practical purpose is to supply information (anecdotes and images, actually) …

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Behind the barn

September 14, 2008 | 5 Comments

The story of one family’s Obama barn in backwater Ohio illuminates America’s larger, progressive narrative & ideals. “Everyone’s a story,” my mother used to say. There’s always a story behind the story, too, but usually we don’t get it. However, I know the history of this barn for Obama, only the second so painted in all of Ohio, because my wife’s a Krendl and the barn is on their family farm in the state’s northwestern corner. Theirs is a layered American tale …

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