Critical Mass

After Kapuściński: The Art of Reportage in the 21st Century, cosponsored by NBCC

By Eric Banks

October 6-7, 2009
NYU’s Hemmerdinger Hall
100 Washington Square East

This two-day symposium offers an exciting public conversation about the state of the art of reportage amid a rapidly changing media landscape, various approaches to and practices of long-form and literary journalism, and the ongoing legacy of renowned practitioners like Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński. At a time when categorical differences between fiction and nonfiction are increasingly ambiguous, and the gap between their respective segments of the publishing market increasingly small, a discussion of reportage as a literary art form is paramount.

This free public program is being co-sponsored by the Polish Cultural Institute in New York, the National Book Critics Circle, the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU, and the Literary Reportage concentration of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU, in association with the Overseas Press Club of America and Words without Borders.

Panel I: The Art of Reportage: On the Ground and On the Page
5:00 PM–7:00 PM

How does narrative arise from reportage? What transformation occurs during the writing process? Answers from journalists who combine investigative skills and literary craft.

Jane Ciabattari, Moderator, is President of the National Book Critics Circle and a member of the Executive Board of the Overseas Press Club. Her reporting from abroad and cultural criticism have appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian online,, Bookforum, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Columbia Journalism Review.

Joshua Clark is author of Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone (2007 National Book Critics Circle award finalist). He has worked as a correspondent for NPR and

Eliza Griswold is author of The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam (FSG, forthcoming 2010), a New America Fellow, and a 2010 Rome Fellow at the American Academy in Rome. Her reportage has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s and the New Republic.

Arif Jamal is author of The Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir (Melville House, 2009). Former contributing writer to the New York Times, he is a fellow at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University.

Elizabeth Rubin, a recent Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. Her award-winning reportage from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudia Arabia, Russia, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic, Harper’s, and the New Yorker.

Paweł Smoleński is author of 7 books in Polish, including Burial of a Butcher, on tensions between Poles and Ukrainians, and Hell in Paradise, on post-Saddam Iraq. He received a 2005 Kurt Schork Award in International Journalism from Columbia University’s Journalism School.

Panel II: Literary Reportage Between Self and Other, Fact and Fiction
7:30 PM–9:00 PM

If a strictly objective take is self-evidently impossible, what sort of warrant as to strict veracity ought the reader expect from the creator of long-form narrative nonfiction? To what extent, if any, ought that writer’s vantage be grounded in a personal “I” voice, and to what extent does even that commitment shade into a sort of fiction?

Lawrence Weschler, Moderator, is concurrently Director of the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU and Artistic Director of the Chicago Humanities Festival, and the author of over a dozen books, including The Passion of Poland, Calamities of Exile, and Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences (2007 National Book Critics Circle Award winner).

Wojciech Jagielski is the author of 4 books in Polish, including Night Wanderers (2009), about child soldiers in Uganda, and, in English translation, Towers of Stone: The Battle of Wills in Chechnya (Seven Stories, October 2009).

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc is author of Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx (2003, NBCC finalist), a 2006 MacArthur Fellow, and a visiting scholar at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

Suketu Mehta is author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found (2004), a 2007 Guggenheim Fellow, and Associate Professor in the Literary Reportage concentration of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU.

Alastair Reid is an eminent poet, longtime New Yorker correspondent from Spain, Scotland, and Latin America, one of the foremost translators of the work of both Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges, and a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities.

Panel III: Kapuściński’s Legacy in the 21st Century
6:30 PM–8:30 PM

Ryszard Kapuściński was one of the most celebrated, albeit controversial journalists of the last fifty years, a gorgeous stylist and a rhapsodic, if at times not strictly reliable, witness. To what extent is the kind of reportage he engaged in even possible today? What lessons can the next generation of writers draw from his example?

Robert S. Boynton, Moderator, is Director of NYU’s new Literary Reportage concentration, former Senior Editor at Harper’s, and author of The New New Journalism (2005).

Anna Bikont is a senior writer and co-founder of Poland’s leading daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, author of We, People from Jedwabne (2004; English translation forthcoming from Yale Univ. Press), and a 2008-09 Cullman Center fellow at the NYPL, where she was researching a biography of Ryszard Kapuściński.

Ted Conover is the author of Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing (2001 National Book Critics Circle Award winner), a 2003 Guggenheim Fellow, and Distinguished Writer in Residence at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

Klara Glowczewska is Editor in Chief of Condé Nast Traveler, the only travel publication to win a National Magazine Award, translator of three of Ryszard Kapuściński’s books, including Travels With Herodotus (2007). She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Overseas Press Club.

Philip Gourevitch is Editor in Chief of The Paris Review, a longtime staff writer at the New Yorker, and author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families (1998 National Book Critics Circle Award and Overseas Press Club Award) and, with Errol Morris, of The Ballad of Abu Ghraib (2008).