THREAD at Yale

Each year, Yale University's Journalism Initiative hosts an exclusive gathering of professional non-fiction journalists and storytellers. We gathered for three days and nights to learn from masters in the field and from each other. Some of these mentors included Glynn Washington, Catherine Burns, Stephanie FooJill Abramson, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Jenna Wortham, Amanda Chicago Lewis, Steve Brodner and Mark Oppenheimer. While I have a lot to learn from every one of these people, they were gracious to me and thoroughly enlightening during THREAD. 

On Sunday June 11th, I arrived in New Haven, CT and checked into the Trumbull Residential College at one of the world’s foremost institutions of higher learning, Yale University. I was later told that the program’s selection of a dorm with winding staircases, no air conditioning and only intermittent hot water was to ensure we had a true “Hogwarts experience.” That we did, and so much more.

This is THREAD at Yale, a selective conference-workshop hybrid from the Yale Journalism Scholars program. The topic? Storytelling in Modern Media. This theme encompasses all types of narrative work: from journalism, blogging or podcasting to fiction, graphic novels and video. This allowed for a widely diverse collection of attendees, bridging gaps of age, sex, gender, profession, heritage and experience, from whom I learned so much.

Attendees heard from Glynn Washington, host and executive producer of the hit NPR show Snap Judgement, about how his program was almost doomed to fail from the start without a distributor to fund, produce and share it. Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative reporter for The New York Times Magazine and one of the foremost voices on racial disparities in the USA shared her story and her exceptional work. Catherine Burns and Matthew Dicks from another hit storytelling show The Moth joined us to go over how their show, based on raw storytelling, edits and refines a good tale to make it great.

Steve Brodner, an editorial cartoonist, illustrator and political commentator, helped us all understand principles of significance and space in visual art and apply those concepts to narrative writing.  Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of The New York Times, shared experiences from her prestigious career. And Jenna Wortham, a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine, told us all the crazy story of how she got there and how she stays.

Each of us brought a work sample and we took turns critiquing them as workshop groups of 8 or 10. Experienced leaders directed the process, and I’ve gained immense knowledge about writing, narrative and storytelling for reader engagement from those review sessions.

The Trumbull Residential College where I stayed, home to alum such as Allison Silverman, George Chauncey and Anderson Cooper.

THREAD allowed me to reimagine my entire writing philosophy.
Michael Incavo