This post is an assignment for my Journalism 202 class — please keep that in mind when reading. [Prompt]
Everyone has a father figure, a mentor, to whom they look up to when they finally reach their long-awaited goal in life. There’s always someone they thank in their end-of-the-year speeches, their Oscars, or Emmys, or Pulitzers, or the equivalent. “Finally, I’d like to thank John Doe for inspiring me to take that extra step forward”. Something like that.
For me, there were two such people. One person was Steve Lopez, weekly columnist at the Los Angeles Times.
I started reading the LA Times when I was in middle school. Although I only paid attention to the comics page at first — my favorites were Pearls Before Swine and Calvin & Hobbes — Lopez’s headlines soon caught my eye.
Especially striking was his eloquent blend of storytelling and hard journalism. I also appreciated the fact that he would often hit the streets to dig up materials — one column saw him transform into a homeless hitchhiker, standing on an on-ramp for a freeway, thumb outstretched.
It made me wonder about how I would fare, and what I would get to write about.
The second person was Erik Larson, novelist and author of my most favorite book in the whole work, The Devil In The White City.
The book is a work of historical nonfiction, set in 1893 around the time of the Chicago Columbian Exposition. Larson writes in excruciating detail the city, its people, and the Herculean effort it took to get the fair off the ground. He intersperses this narrative — it is a narrative, not just a history book — with a fascinating study on H.H. Holmes, the infamous serial killer which operated in Chicago during the same time.
He taught me that history doesn’t have to be dry, and the importance of good, clear, approachable writing. To this day, I have him to thank for my writing style.