Fresh off the plane from New York and soon on his way to Pakistan, journalist William Langewiesche made a stop at UC Davis to tell aspiring writers not to give up on that journalism career quite yet.
As the chief international correspondent for Vanity Fair Magazine, Langewiesche has covered topics both abroad and at home during what he described in Tuesday’s presentation as the cutting edge of nonfiction. His candid conversation with students and faculty took place in Voorhies Hall at 4:30 p.m. as part of the University Writing Program’s speaker series. The program brings contemporary writers to the campus 10 to 12 times a year – Langewiesche was the last installment of the series for this year.
Langewiesche, a Davis resident, had a central message of hope for good writers. He emphasized the magazine industry’s need for thoughtful stories and a greater understanding for the world. His own personal experience in countries such as Iraq, Bosnia, Macedonia, Brazil and Ecuador serve as a basis for this advice.
“If you write well and you understand the world – you’re in,” he said during the discussion. “The basic view of journalism lately is that it’s a dying trade. But this is wrong. The real problem is getting better material – if you can produce a good story then you will be successful.“
He marked his own method for getting into the writing business as a path to this success, saying that his degree in anthropology from Stanford University was essentially useless. What really got his career in journalism started was a trip to Algeria, after which he sent his observations to Atlantic Monthly and was hired to write for them shortly after, he said.
“Just go out into the world and make observations,” he said. “And if you don’t succeed, then blame yourself, not your environment. It’s the only way to improve.“
The discussion lasted approximately 30 minutes, followed by a question-and-answer session during which members from a crowd of about 40 attendees asked Langewiesche various questions about his career. The crowd was pleased to hear stories from his travels, said Sasha Abramsky, professor of the UWP and organizer of Tuesday’s event.
Before the event, Abramsky was looking forward to bringing such an accomplished writer to UC Davis on such short notice and was glad to see Tuesday’s impressive turnout.
“The point [of the series] is to get speakers who can communicate the importance of their ideas to an audience who isn’t particularly familiar with their specialty,” said Abramsky, who is himself a freelance journalist and knows Langewiesche personally. “Journalists are going to be good at that and he is really good at it. He has written for two of the biggest and most important magazines in t he world [Atlantic Monthly and Vanity Fair].“
Many of the attendees were just as enthused about Langewiesche’s discussion and used the time with him to guide their own writing aspirations. Philip Riley heard about the event from his boss in the Information Technology center and attended to hear more about journalism, a career he is interested in.
“It was encouraging to hear that there are opportunities out there for writers,” said Riley, a senior communication major. “I think after hearing his talk I’ll probably pursue writing more.“
Langeweishe has written five books and a number of articles for various publications. For more information on the UWP, contact Sasha Abramsky at email@example.com.
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org