BOOKBAG: “12 MINUTES AND A LIFE”

Bookbag

Story by Mitchell S. Jackson and a Nieman Storyboard annotation

12 minutes and a Life,” a Runner’s World story by Mitchell S. Jackson, recounts the short life and lynching of Ahmaud Arbrery, who died in 2020 running while black in Brunswick, Ga. Last month, the piece won a Pulitzer and a National Magazine Award for feature writing. Earlier this week, Nieman Storyboard published an annotation of Jackson’s prize-winning story, the product of a long interview I had with the writer. In just three weeks of non-stop work, Jackson reported and wrote the story, which was published four months after three white men ambushed Arbery. It’s an object lesson in narrative magazine journalism; one that combines traditional journalism, forensic presentation, and Black English to tell the story. We talked about the culture and evolution of language, braided structure, and why Jackson put himself in the narrative.

The annotation offers extraordinary insight into how an innovative writer and scholar works and thinks in ways that expand the possibilities of narrative nonfiction. One of which is that a 6,000 word masterpiece doesn’t always require a year to produce. I learned a ton: about reporting, writing, linguistics, diction, Black culture, and story structure from our conversation. I think you will, too.

P.S. After our conversation, I devoured Jackson’s debut novel, “The Residue Years,” and a memoir, “Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family.” They are both raw, gutsy and acutely personal portrayals of the blight of poverty, crack addiction and dealing and the world of pimping out women for prostitution amid the small Black population in Portland, Ore. I can’t recommend them more enthusiastically.

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