Katia Savchuk at the Nieman Foundation:
When I first came across Katherine Boo’s work in journalism school, I was immediately taken with her ability to expose injustice while weaving gorgeous narratives. I carved up her stories in The Washington Post and The New Yorker with a black pen, hoping I could figure out their magic.
Next I devoured Boo’s book, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” which extended her probing and compassionate portrayal of poverty to India. Before becoming a journalist, I had spent nearly two years working with grass-roots groups in Mumbai slums just like Annawadi, the one she spent three years chronicling for the book. I’d been so upset by journalistic portrayals of these neighborhoods that I wrote an entire master’s thesis about the subject. Now, finally, here was an account that took slum residents seriously as protagonists in their own lives, without dismissing the inequality and corruption that stymied them.
When I learned that Boo was speaking at the Mayborn Conference in Grapevine, Texas, this year, I secretly hoped she’d give a crash course in her craft. But I’ve heard enough journalism keynotes to know that speakers are more likely to rehash their career paths or pontificate on subjects they’ve written about. So I was pleasantly surprised on Friday when Boo announced that she planned to give us our money’s worth by sharing 15 rules that guide her during the reporting and writing process.