Jon Franklin, pioneering apostle of literary journalism, dies at 82

Jon Franklin, pioneering apostle of literary journalism, dies at 82

Jon Franklin, pioneering apostle of literary journalism, dies at 82

Jon Franklin, an apostle of short-form narrative journalism whose own work won the first Pulitzer Prizes awarded for feature writing and explanatory journalism, died Sunday in Annapolis, Maryland. He was 82 years old.

His death, at a hospice, came less than two weeks after he fell at his home, said his wife, Lynn Franklin. He had also been treated for esophageal cancer for two years.

An author, teacher, journalist and editor, Mr. Franklin championed the style of nonfiction that was celebrated as the New Journalism but was in fact vintage narrative storytelling — an approach he said still adheres to the standards accuracy and objectivity of ancient journalism.

He shared his thoughts on the subject in “Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction” (1986), which became a practical guide for literary-minded journalists.

In 1979, Mr. Franklin won the first Pulitzer ever awarded for feature writing for his two-part series in the Baltimore Evening Sun called “Mrs. “Kelly’s Monster.”

This series, which highlighted the wonders and margins of modern medicine, was a gripping eyewitness account that transported readers into an operating room. It recounted a surgeon’s excruciating struggle to save the life of a woman whose brain was compressed by a tangle of blood vessels.

He won his second Pulitzer in 1985, this time in the new category of explanatory journalism, for his seven-part series “The Mind Fixers,” also in The Evening Sun. Looking at the molecular chemistry of the brain and how neurons communicate, he profiled a scientist whose experiments with brain receptors could herald drug treatment and other alternatives to psychoanalysis.

Inspired by Mr. Franklin’s own sessions with a psychologist, the series was adapted into a book, “Molecules of the Mind: The Brave New Science of Molecular Psychology” (1987), one of seven that he wrote.

Barry L. Jacobs, a professor of neuroscience at Princeton, wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Mr. Franklin addressed his theme — that using drugs to treat mental illness could make the world a place of healing — “in a lively journalistic style. , as well as with a touch of humor and a touch of often entertaining cynicism. “Molecules of the Mind” was among The Times’ Notable Books of the Year.

Mr. Franklin’s “Writing for History” was not so much a bible of sermons for budding journalists who saw themselves becoming future John Steinbecks, Tom Wolfes or even Jon Franklins as it was a demanding lesson plan in storytelling which, he writes, took him three decades. master.

“The reason we read stories is that we have developed a desire to understand the world around us,” he said in an interview for the newspaper. Niéman Foundation at Harvard in 2004. “The best way to do this is to draw on our own experiences, but if we read a good story, it’s like living another person’s life without taking any risk or time . »

Critics have expressed concern that emphasizing style might mean sacrificing substance. Mr. Franklin whispered.

Literary journalism, he insisted, “does not threaten the core values ​​of honesty, accuracy and objectivity.” I cautioned, however, that literary journalism requires time and talent to be done well. “Not every article deserves it, nor can every journalist be trusted,” he wrote in American Journalism Review in 1996.

“Mrs. Kelly’s Monster” was published in December 1978. That year, the Pulitzer board created a new award category to recognize “a distinguished example of feature writing with primary attention to high literary quality and originality.” The Board of Directors established the Explanatory Journalism Award in 1984. Mr. Franklin was the first to win each of these awards.

Jon Daniel Franklin was born on January 13, 1942 in Enid, Oklahoma, to Benjamin and Wilma (Winburn) Franklin. His father was an electrician whose work on construction sites in the Southwest frequently uprooted the family.

John aspired to become a scientist, but because of the family’s transience, he was educated primarily in what he called “the universal school of writers”: the novels of Fitzgerald and Hemingway and the stories of the Saturday Evening Post.

Bullied during gang fights as a white minority boy in the majority-Hispanic city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, he was given a battered Underwood typewriter by his father, who urged him to express his hostility with his fingers rather than his fists.

In 1959, Jon dropped out of high school to join the Navy. He worked for eight years as a naval reporter aboard aircraft carriers, then as an apprentice at All Hands magazine, a Pentagon publication where, he says, a demanding editor honed his talent.

He attended the University of Maryland under the GI Bill and graduated with a degree in journalism in 1970. He worked as a reporter and editor for the Prince George’s Post in Maryland before the Baltimore Evening Sun hired him as a rewritten in 1970.

Although he won his Pulitzer for his writings on science, he stated in Niéman’s interview that he was “a science writer, but I don’t write about science.” He added: “I write about people. “Science is just a landscape.”

He left The Evening Sun in 1985 and returned to the University of Maryland, this time as professor and chair of the journalism department. He then headed the creative writing program at the University of Oregon for a time and took a writing position at the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Returning to the University of Maryland, he was named to the inaugural Merrill Chair of Journalism in 2001. Gene Roberts, a fellow faculty member who had been editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia Inquirer and editor-in-chief of the New York Times, greeted Mr. Franklin. as “one of the greatest practitioners and teachers of feature writing in all of journalism.” I retired as a professor in 2010.

Mr. Franklin’s marriage to Nancy Creevan ended in divorce. He married Lynn Scheidhauer in 1988. Besides his wife, his survivors include two daughters, Catherine Franklin Abzug and Teresa June Franklin, from his first marriage.

Mr. Franklin’s other books include “The Wolf in the Living Room: The Eternal Connection Between Humans and Dogs” (2000), in which he describes how the Franklins’ pet poodle, Sam, woke the family when their house caught fire.

For a writer whose own surgical experience was limited to reattaching his thumb after it was severed in a fall on the sidewalk, Mr. Franklin’s story of the “monster” aneurysm pressing on his brain Edna Kelly was rich in details and accessible images. The increasing pressure on the artery wall, he wrote, was like “a tire about to explode, a balloon ready to burst, a time bomb the size of a pea.”

Mrs. Kelly was ready to die rather than live with the monster. His story was not a miracle. But it begins and ends with the invocation of sustenance, without which life and miracles cannot exist:

First up, breakfast waffles, made by the wife of Dr. Thomas Barbee Ducker, brain surgeon in chief at the University of Maryland Hospital. No coffee, Mr. Franklin wrote; It makes his hands tremble. Once the surgery is over, what lies ahead for Dr. Ducker are more medical challenges and a peanut butter sandwich his wife had packed in a brown bag along with Fig Newtons and a banana.

“Mrs. Kelly is dying,” Mr. Franklin wrote.

“The clock on the wall near where Dr. Ducker is sitting says 1:43, and it’s over.

“It’s hard to say what to do. We’ve been thinking about it for six weeks. But, you know, there are some things…that’s as far as you can go. I just don’t know.

“He places the sandwich, banana and fig Newtons on the table in front of him, carefully, the same way the nurse arranged the instruments.

“It was triple jeopardy,” he said finally, looking at his peanut butter sandwich the same way he looked at the x-rays. “It was triple jeopardy.”

“It’s 1:43, and it’s over.

“Dr. Ducker bites darkly into the sandwich. He must continue. The monster has won.