John Franklin, pioneer of literary journalism, dies at age 82

John Franklin, pioneer of literary journalism, dies at age 82


John Franklin, an apostle of narrative short-story style journalism whose own work won the first Pulitzer Prizes for feature writing and explanatory journalism, died Sunday in Annapolis, MD. He was 82 years old.

His wife, Lynn Franklin, said he died in a hospice less than two weeks after collapsing at their home. He also underwent treatment for esophageal cancer for two years.

A writer, teacher, reporter and editor, Mr. Franklin championed the non-fiction genre that was celebrated as New Journalism but was really old narrative storytelling, an approach he insisted he Still adheres to old-fashioned journalistic standards of accuracy and fairness.

He expressed his thinking on the subject in “Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction” (1986), which became a guide for literary-minded journalists.

In 1979, Mr. Franklin won the first Pulitzer given for feature writing for his two-part series in The Baltimore Evening Sun titled “Mrs. Kelly’s monster.”

His vivid eyewitness accounts transport readers into an operating room where a surgeon’s harrowing struggle to save the life of a woman whose brain was squeezed by a wicked tangle of blood vessels highlights the miracles and margins of modern medicine. Was.

He won his second Pulitzer, this time under the new category of explanatory journalism, in 1985, for his seven-part series “The Mind Fixers” in The Evening Sun. Taking a deep look at the molecular chemistry of the brain and how neurons communicate, he outlined a scientist whose experiments with receptors in the brain could herald treatment with drugs and other alternatives to psychoanalysis.

Inspired by Mr. Franklin’s own sessions with a psychologist, the series was adapted into a book, “Molecules of the Mind: The Brave New Science of Molecular Psychology” (1987), which was the last of seven books he wrote. Was one of.

Barry L., professor of neuroscience at Princeton. Jacobs wrote in The New York Times Book Review that the author tackles his theme – that the use of drugs to treat mental illness can make the world a safer place – “in a sharp journalistic style, as well as a sense of humor.” “Molecules” was one of the Times’ Notable Books of the Year.

Mr. Franklin’s “Writing for Story” was not so much a didactic Bible for budding journalists who imagined future John Steinbecks, Tom Wolfes, and even John Franklins, as it was a demanding text about storytelling. There was a plan, which took him three decades to write. to master.

“We read stories because we have developed a desire to understand the world around us,” he said in an interview. Neiman Foundation at Harvard in 2004. “The way we do this best is through our own experiences, but if we read a good story it’s like living another person’s life without taking the risk or the time.”

Critics expressed concern that an emphasis on style might mean sacrificing substance. Mr. Franklin objected.

literary journalism, he insisted, “There is no threat to the core values ​​of honesty, accuracy and fairness.” However, he cautioned that literary journalism done right requires time and talent. He wrote, “Not every story is worth it, nor can every reporter be trusted.” American Journalism Review In 1996.

“Mrs. Kelly’s Monster” was published in December 1978. That year the Pulitzer Board established a new award category to recognize “a distinguished example of feature writing of high literary quality and with prominent attention to originality”. The Board created the award for explanatory journalism in 1984. Mr. Franklin was the first person to win each award.

John Daniel Franklin was born on January 13, 1942, in Enid, Okla., to Benjamin and Wilma (Winburn) Franklin. His father was an electrician, whose work on construction sites in the southwest often left the family devastated.

John aspired to be a scientist, but the family’s transitory nature resulted in most of his education being at the “universal school for writers” – the novels of Fitzgerald and Hemingway and the short stories of The Saturday Evening Post.

After being bullied in gang fighting as a minority white boy in mostly Hispanic Sante Fe, his father gave him a battered Underwood typewriter, urging him to vent his hostility with his fingers rather than his fists. Was.

In 1959, John left high school to join the Navy. He worked as a naval journalist aboard an aircraft carrier for eight years and later interned at the Pentagon publication All Hands magazine, where, he said, a demanding editor honed his talents.

He attended the University of Maryland under the GI Bill and graduated with a degree in journalism in 1970. He worked as a reporter and editor for The Prince Georges Post in Maryland before being hired as a rewrite man by The Baltimore Evening Sun in 1970. He won a Pulitzer covering science.

He said, “I’m a science writer, but I don’t write about science.” neiman interview, “I write about people. Science is just visualization.”

He left The Evening Sun in 1985 and returned to the University of Maryland, this time as professor and chair of the journalism department. He briefly directed the creative writing program at the University of Oregon and worked writing at The News & Observer in Raleigh.

Returning again to the University of Maryland, he was named to the first Merrill Chair in Journalism in 2001. Gene Roberts, a faculty colleague who had been executive editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and managing editor of The New York Times, praised Mr. Franklin. “One of the greatest practitioners and teachers of feature writing in all of journalism.” He retired as professor in 2010.

Mr. Franklin’s marriage to Nancy Craven ended in divorce. He married Lynn Scheidhauer in 1988. In addition to his wife, his survivors include two daughters from his first marriage, Katherine Franklin Abzug and Teresa June Franklin.

Among his other books is “The Wolf in the Parlor: The Eternal Connection Between Humans and Dogs” (2000), in which he tells how the Franklins’ pet poodle Sam wakes up the family when their house catches fire.

For a writer whose own surgical experience was limited to reattaching a thumb after it was amputated by a fall on the sidewalk, Mr. Franklin’s story on the “monster” aneurysm pressing on Edna Kelly’s brain was rich in detail and accessible imagery. . The increasing pressure on the artery wall, he wrote, was like “a tire about to burst, a balloon ready to burst, a pea-sized time-bomb”.

Mrs. Kelly was willing to die rather than live with the monster. His story was not about a miracle. But it begins and ends with an invocation of sustenance, without which life and miracles cannot exist:

Waffles made for breakfast by the wife of Dr. Thomas Barbee Ducker, chief brain surgeon at the University of Maryland Hospital. No coffee. This causes his hands to tremble, Mr. Franklin wrote. When the surgery is over, Dr. Ducker faces more medical challenges and a peanut butter sandwich that his wife packed in a brown bag with a Fig Newton and a banana.

“Mrs. Kelly is dying,” Mr. Franklin wrote.

“The clock on the wall near where Dr. Ducker sits says 1:43, and it’s over.

“‘It’s hard to tell what to do. We’ve been thinking about it for six weeks. But, you know, there are some things… as far as you can go. I just don’t know.’

“He arranges the sandwiches, bananas and fig Newtons neatly on the table in front of him, the way a scrub nurse arranges instruments.

“’It was triple threat,’ he says at the end, staring at his peanut butter sandwich the same way he stares at an X-ray. ‘It was a triple threat.’

“It’s 1:43, and it’s over.

“Dr. Ducker took a serious bite of the sandwich. He should move on. The monster wins.”



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