A senior editor with the Village Voice, Wayne Barrett, has been awarded the first Jack Newfield Visiting Professorship of Journalism at Hunter College. The professorship is named for journalist and Hunter alumnus Jack Newfield, who died in December 2004.
Newfield graduated Hunter College in 1960, where he was sports editor of the school newspaper, the Hunter Arrow. He rose to prominence writing for the Village Voice, where his annual "Ten Worst Landlords" and other pieces combining rigorous investigation and passionate advocacy of social concerns gained him a wide readership as a crusader against injustice. Newfield continued the efforts of earlier journalists such as Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and Jacob Riis. Mr. Barrett, who was Newfield's friend and co-author of the Koch administration corruption book "City for Sale," continues their tradition of exposing injustice.
Newfield went on to write for The New York Post, The New York Daily News, and The New York Sun. Sun reporter Stephen Miller, reporting on Newfield's funeral, quoted Mr. Barrett's description of Newfield's technique: "Discover, dissent, dig, reveal, confront, besiege, level, care," and recalled lessons learned from Newfield such as "Always detail over dogma."
Mr. Barrett, who worked with Newfield at the Village Voice, will teach a class titled "Local Political and Investigative Reporting," where students will create a "Ten Worst Landlords" column as a class project.
BOYERS'S BOOK Salmagundi magazine editor Robert Boyers read Monday at the New School from his first collection of stories, "Excitable Women, Damaged Men" (Turtle Point Press). A professor at Skidmore College who teaches on the graduate faculty at the New School, Mr. Boyers read an abridged version of "Samantha," a story about a brilliant but angry college student. Her interactions with a faculty member and others in her ambit are set against a "regime of political correctness that distorts the possibility of any intimate human connection," Mr. Boyers said in conversation after the reading with New School Writing Program director Robert Polito.
Mr. Polito opened by saying Mr. Boyers's first collection of stories was "very focused." A number of characters in the stories, he said, were civilized people involved in "savage power plays."
Mr. Polito asked Mr. Boyers about having come to fiction writing late in life. He asked how useful Mr. Boyers's experience as a literature teacher was in the process, and "How much did it get in the way?" Mr. Boyers said there could be something paralyzing about having taught masterpieces and having written literary criticism almost exclusively about masterpieces, because one can't begin writing a story with the thought of creating a masterpiece. "But," he said, "my 40 years of thinking about literature has been enormously useful in making myself into a fiction writer."
Mr. Boyers said he wanted to get his critical voice as far out of his fiction as possible, so he made an initial decision not to write political fiction, which is the subject he most often writes about in his criticism.
Mr. Polito inquired whether he had models for writing short stories. Mr. Boyers said he actually did not have a model, but mentioned his admiration for Anglo-Irish writer William Trevor, whom he had never met. Mr. Trevor, he said, is an author who "writes without pretension, gets to the deepest things without making a fuss about what he's doing." He said he also admired Alice Munro's diversity: "She seems to be able to do just about anything in a short story."
Mr. Boyers said writing fiction late in his career was wonderfully liberating: "I'm allowed to imagine things that I never allowed myself to say in an essay."
DARWIN'S DELIGHT Tufts University philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett conversed Monday with a Columbia University professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies, Robert Thurman, at the Miller Theatre.The two locked horns over the issue of reincarnation, of which Mr. Thurman is a proponent and Mr. Dennett is skeptical: "Why should a moral point of view hinge at all on reincarnation?" Mr. Dennett asked.
"I just don't see why this is an interesting idea," Mr. Dennett said of reincarnation, which Mr. Thurman preferred to call "rebirth." Faced with the question of where one goes when one dies, Mr. Dennett, an agnostic, countered with a question of his own: "Where do carrots go when they die?"
Mr. Dennett, whose latest book is "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" (Viking), said his main message that evening was: "We need to study religion the way we study global warming, global economy, global energy resources." He said religion should be studied as a natural phenomenon using "the full panoply of scientific investigation." He also said religion may be a supernatural phenomenon, but "the only way we could ever prove that is by studying it as a natural phenomenon and discovering there were parts of it we couldn't make sense of."
Mr. Thurman related a religious joke. A preacher asks, "Can anyone tell me what faith is?" A little boy named John in the front row says, "I can." "Now, little John," says the preacher, "What is faith?" "Faith is believing in what you know ain't true."