Student Stories

The Art of Nonfiction

James Fallows has done it all.

Most recently, the award–winning journalist spent three years living in China, chronicling the rapid rise of that country’s economy as a national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly. But Fallows also is the author of nine acclaimed books, writes an influential blog, is a former presidential speechwriter (for Jimmy Carter), has designed software (for Microsoft) and is an instrument–rated pilot.

The breadth of Fallows’ expertise and interests makes him an ideal choice for the Robert Vare Nonfiction Writer–in–Residence Program, according to Vare, AB’67, AM ’70, the program’s founder.

Vare, editor–at–large of the Atlantic, funds and recruits candidates for the writer–in–residence program, which brings a distinguished writer to campus each year to teach a course on nonfiction writing. Fallows will teach a course this Spring Quarter entitled “The Art of Nonfiction.”

“I think that Jim would be interesting to hear on almost any subject because he is so commandingly articulate and clear–headed,” Vare said. “When you read an essay by Jim … it’s almost like he’s opening up his thought processes for you and you’re seeing a truly remarkable mind at work.”

Vare established the nonfiction writer–in–residence program in 2000. He hoped both to give back to the University and to share his passion for narrative nonfiction. From the beginning, he said, he has tried to find writers like Fallows with a wide variety of experiences, curiosities and approaches to their craft.

Previous writers–in–residence have included science writer Dava Sobel, biographers David Hajdu and Edmund Morris, historian Simon Winchester, journalists Jonathan Harr and Ron Rosenbaum, and literary critic, essayist and novelist Walter Kirn.

Despite their many differences, Vare said, “These writers have an unusual level of accomplishment. But I also look for people who have an exceptional ability to talk about what they do and how they do what they do.”

Fallows, who has been a national correspondent for the Atlantic for more than three decades, is also a political correspondent for National Public Radio. Fallows said Vare had talked about the program for years, and in 2006, Fallows accepted Vare’s invitation to teach a course. “Now that it has come, I’m very glad to have the chance,” Fallows said.

Fallows plans to focus his course on “the process of finding topics to explore, learning about them through interviews and research, and presenting them effectively in writing,” he said. “More generally, I hope to have an opportunity to discuss many of the subject areas we'll be writing about—politics, international affairs, technology, economics—and the evolution of journalism itself.”

Vare is confident that his Atlantic colleague Fallows will quickly win over his students. “Jim is going to really inspire that class with the way he communicates and the depth of his thinking about subjects and issues.” he said. “I predict he will have a lasting impact on his Chicago students.”