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Illustrated Journalism and Memoir Certificate Uses NYC to Tell New Stories

March 15, 2021
Jason Das

Jason Das is a New School journalism professor and creator of CPE’s new Illustrated Journalism & Memoir certificate. He has worked for publications including The Atlantic, The Nation, ProPublica, Guernica, National Geographic, and Teen Vogue. He is a founding member and former president of Urban Sketchers. Das’s new certificate explores combined experiences in writing, drawing, painting, comics, and visual narrative.

How did you get started doing this?

I never stopped drawing. Everyone draws when they’re little kids, but as people get older, they often stop. I care deeply about writing, and I worked hard to get good at it, but writing prose on its own is not very fulfilling for me. Words actually become more accessible and available for me when I can combine them with pictures. It’s such a great way to share information, and also channel personal philosophies and the ways we care about the world. 

Jason Das

Why do you think memoir writing has become more popular lately? 

It seems to me like newspapers and magazines are publishing more and more personal essays, and memoir books are always on the bestseller lists. We love being the hero of our own story and centering ourselves as we see the world. We also love a look into other people’s points of view — either people like us, so it’s relatable, or people unlike us, so it expands our perspective. There can be aspects of voyeurism to it, too, and of course people enjoy that. I also think audiences have become more empathetic: today’s authors can write about trauma, oppression, and conflict and it comes across as affirmative and brave, not as victimhood or weakness.

What can students expect to learn in an Illustrated Journalism & Memoir course? 

It’s somewhere in between a journalism class, a sketching class, an expressive writing class, and a cartooning class. There will be a lot of prompts, including diary and journal exercises, to help you reflect and perceive life in different and new ways. Everyone has an interesting story and perspective, but not everyone has found a way to dig into that. There are some short “how to draw” and “how to write” exercises, more aimed at you finding your own thing than specific techniques. You’ll learn how to use words and pictures together in a strong way. You’ll learn how to reflect the world around you while also being creative. Each student’s work ends up being so different. Everyone’s work is so individual and it’s so powerful. 

Jason Das

What materials will students need?

You don’t need fancy materials. We’re really focused more on the thoughts and ideas than the art supplies. You’re welcome to use an office pen, an old-school composition book, or draw with your finger on an iPhone. And if you like working in different styles and mediums, that works really well here. Part of the appeal is you can switch it up and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s about making each piece succeed on its own terms. 

How are the courses in the certificate structured?

The first class establishes a nurturing supportive environment; people getting a sense of themselves as artists and authors – more about finding your voice and less about trying to match a standard. We’ll start by introducing students to fundamental concepts via exercises and activities, and challenge their comfort zones. There will also be lots of opportunities for sharing work and feedback with other students. As students move through the certificate, there is a course more directly focused on journalism and another more focused on memoir. The final class supports authoring more ambitious projects, and will have more room for research and critique. 

What makes NYC a unique environment for this certificate?

The whole world is in New York City. All kinds of people. Every kind of art. Every kind of food. You hear dozens of languages just walking around. Being around that is so energizing and important. With this kind of work, the diverse energy of New York City is very complementary.

Jason Das

Who should pursue this certificate?

If people like stories and telling stories, this is such a great way to do it. And if they have a cause they’re passionate about, this is a great way to educate and spread the word. It’s one of the best ways to reach a wider audience. Also it’s fun!


Learn more about the Illustrated Journalism & Memoir certificate. Check out Jason Das’ illustrations.

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