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Exam - 'Words Matter' Conference Revolves Around Anthology on Writing


Past graduates of the Missouri School of Journalism came together to talk with students, other journalists and aspiring writers about the process of writing during the first ever “Words Matter Writing Conference.” The conference took place from April 11 to April 15 and featured topics from magazine writing to freelance journalism.

The speakers at this conference recently had their stories published in Words Matter: Writing to Make a Difference, an anthology consisting of journalistic pieces and memoirs all from graduates of the Missouri School of Journalism. Mary Kay Blakely, one of the two editors of the book along with Amanda Dahling, got the idea for the anthology after she kept receiving pieces of writing from former students.

“When I saw those clips, and when I read them I thought, this is fantastic. It has to live longer than between the two paper covers of a magazine. So I thought, well what can we do? How can we gather these?” Blakely said.

Blakely, an associate professor emerita of magazine journalism, contacted students that she taught to see if they had pieces they were willing to contribute to the book.

“I said ‘send me the piece that you’re happiest to have written, or that you feel proudest of having written’ and we started getting these pieces in and they told each other and more told each other. So, there was one point where we had more than 500 essays that we had to sift through and choose from and it was very difficult because they all could live longer than a magazine lived,” Blakely said.

The gathering of these stories took over six years. When the workings of the book started coming together, Blakely started thinking about who would want to read a book on writing by writers.

“I thought, anybody who reads magazines would be interested in reading the best of magazines. And then I started thinking, if you’re a writing teacher, whether you’re in an institution like MU or the J-school, or whether you’re in the community teaching a community of writers, writers always love to read good writing because it makes us pay attention to what makes good writing. So I thought of it as a general reading audience first, and then I thought of it as a writing book that could be useful,” Blakely said.

The pieces and essays in the book showcase a range of experience and subject matter, but one piece stands out to Blakely.

“Shane Epping’s essay is one that really stood out for me because he was first a photographer, and then a writer, and I think he’s equally good at both. He describes in this book about learning when his wife was in their first pregnancy, that [the baby] had a birth defect that was probably going to mean that she wasn’t going to live longer than six weeks. He wrote about that, and of course his feelings about it were still so raw, but he was able to capture the poignancy of that moment,” Blakely said.

However, Blakely believes that all of the essays bring new perspectives and ideas on the concept of writing.

“There are so many essays in the book, I could look at each one of them, because of course we spent a long time on each essay, and say, ‘I’m so glad I have that in the book,’” Blakely said. 

Sara Shahriari was the assistant news director at KBIA-FM, and she holds a master's degree from the Missouri School of Journalism. Sara hosted and was executive producer of the PRNDI award-winning weekly public affairs talk show Intersection. She also worked with many of KBIA’s talented student reporters and teaches an advanced radio reporting lab. She previously worked as a freelance journalist in Bolivia for six years, where she contributed print, radio and multimedia stories to outlets including Al Jazeera America, Bloomberg News, the Guardian, the Christian Science Monitor, Deutsche Welle and Indian Country Today. Sara’s work has focused on mental health, civic issues, women’s and children’s rights, policies affecting indigenous peoples and their lands and the environment. While earning her MA at the Missouri School of Journalism, Sara produced the weekly Spanish-language radio show Radio Adelante. Her work with the KBIA team has been recognized with awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and PRNDI, among others, and she is a two-time recipient of funding from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
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