Storytelling and narratives
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From Mortenson to Hetherington

Every Easter I spend away from Greece is a nostalgic one. These are the links that have kept me company through this one.

1. Last week I shared Lynsey Addario’s interview on the joys and perils of photojournalism. This week, I am mourning the loss of two individuals who were dedicated to bringing us honest and direct stories from Libya. Director and photographer Tim Hetherington and photojournalist Chris Hondros lost their lives while covering this conflict. The Wall Street Journal has shared a beautiful array of Hondros’ work in Afghanistan, Egypt, Haiti, Serbia, Iraq and beyond. In 2010, Hondros compiled a 20-minute series of images from his life and work. He titled it Diary and said about it:

“Diary is a highly personal and experimental film that expresses the subjective experience of my work, and was made as an attempt to locate myself after ten years of reporting. It’s a kaleidoscope of images that link our western reality to the seemingly distant worlds we see in the media.”

2.  Lots has been said about the controversy surrounding Greg Mortenson. Marianne Elliott lets her experiences as both a peacekeeper in Afghanistan and a memoir writer inform her perspective on the issue,  thus creating a critical and compassionate piece titled Three Cups of Humble Pie. It is also worth reading the comments; I particularly love how she draws the distinction between sympathy and compassion and still manages to extend the latter in a difficult situation.

3. The Mortenson controversy has not only prompted the aid and development community to reflect, but also sparked some engaging writing on literary portals. The Rumpus published an excellent piece by Steve Almond on “The Heroic Life: A Brief Inquiry into the Fake Memoir.” I especially appreciated Almond’s definition of creative non-fiction as a “radically subjective account of events that objectively took place”, as well as his observation that “fake memoirs are a symptom of the basic insecurity that plagues all writers: is my story worth telling?”

4. The Guardian is featuring a “Rules for Writers” series. Zadie Smith advises: “Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.” And Margaret Atwood counsels, “take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.” For more insight into the craft of writing, I particularly enjoyed an essay in Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays in which she adapted a speech she gave to Columbia University creative writing students.

5. Francis Fukuyama penned a stunning, thought-provoking piece on the effect of modernization and development policies in Egypt. He offers: “Ideas precede action. Before we can hope to generate a coherent set of policies for Egypt, or anywhere else for that matter, we need a better understanding of development—that is, how changes in economy, politics and society over time constitute a set of discrete yet interlinked processes”

Bonus: Terge Sorgjerd’s time-lapse photography moves me. I first fell in love with his images of the Northern Lights and the story of how he compiled them. For his latest work of beauty, he spent a week at the top of Spain’s highest mountain, photographing the sky and his surroundings. Read the story behind The Mountain and enjoy it below:

The Mountain from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.


  1. S, Brandee and Tracy, I am so thrilled that you enjoyed these links. Thank you for your kind words and well-wishes for the week; I hope you are all enjoying the advent of spring!

  2. Love it when you post links! I just need to go through them all. My mind goes crazy with all the intellectual food you fed us! Crazy, in a good way, of course. Thank you! 🙂

  3. I am gaining so much from your words, links & perspective. Thank you, my friend, for an education I never expected to gain.

    Wishing you a safe & peaceful week!

  4. Clare, I am very excited about White Teeth – thank you for the recommendation. I just wrapped up On Beauty and am still enchanted by it. I agree with you on that essay in “Changing My Mind”; it contains some wonderful advice.

    Kim, I am looking forward to hearing (reading?) your mistranslation story. I increasingly turn to the rumpus for good pieces on memoir-writing. They have been publishing gripping, engaging, insightful articles.

    Noel, the loaf of Easter bread… tsoureki… is the scent that accompanied my whole childhood. Elijah fell in love with it too when he visited Greece and I make sure to buy some for both of us when I am there. I really hope you get to spend some more time in Greece, and preferably when I am there so I can show you around!

  5. Thanks for sharing these, and Happy Easter! I hope you had a wonderful day. I was thinking of you yesterday. After my college graduation, my college roommates and I took a trip Greece that fell over Easter. I have beautiful memories of spending that weekend looking at beautiful churches and relaxing on the beach in Mykonos with a loaf of Easter bread.

  6. I’ve managed to catch most of these links as you shared them during the past week, but I just now caught the Rumpus one. It’s exactly how I’ve been thinking about the Mortenson story, considering that I can’t speak to the subject matter from an insider perspective. And the episode about the mistranslation reminded me of a story that I think I want to tell sometime soon.

  7. Thanks for the Zadie Smith link. I’m a big fan of her’s. I see ‘White Teeth’ is on your reading wish list. Read it. It’s her best. I love her essay in ‘Changing my Mind’- best piece of writing on writing, in my opinion.

    Hope you’d a lovely Easter.


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