Halberstadt discussed his memoir and how to be a professional writer in his talks on campus.
Memoirest and journalist Alex Halberstadt came to TU last week. On Thursday night, he gave a reading of his upcoming memoir “Young Heroes of the Soviet Union.” He also participated in an informal Q&A on Friday about becoming a professional writer. His reading was open to the public, but the workshop was exclusively for TU graduate and undergraduate students.
Halberstadt is an accomplished author. His first book is titled “Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus.” His work has also appeared in many publications, including The New York Times Magazine and The Paris Review. He is a professor and teaches at NYU’s Gallatin School for Individualized Study and Eugene Lang College.
The workshop he led about becoming a professional writer had a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. It began with his introduction by Dr. Jeff Drouin, an English professor at TU and friend of Halberstadt. After quick opening remarks, Halberstadt opened the floor to questions, saying he would be open to discussing anything students were interested in.
The topics that students raised covered a range of subjects including publishing, balancing writing with life and MFA programs. All of Halberstadt’s answers to questions were honest, open and thorough. He seemed to really care about students and wanted to help in any way he could. He had a broad perspective since he is a creative nonfiction writer as well as a journalist, so his answers were informed by his varied experiences.
One of the foundational things he did was to define a professional writer. Although there are a lot of writers out there, not all of them are professionals.
He defined a professional writer as “one who makes money from their writing.” Continuing in the discussion, he raised point that because there is so much free media consumed online, it has become harder and harder to make a living as a professional writer.
One of the most interesting topics raised by a student was about facts versus opinion in the news. Halberstadt talked about how journalism has a rigorous set of ethics, which basically outline that journalists’ allegiance should be to truth and not facts.
In essence, he was saying facts are just information. A news source can take information and use it to make whatever point they want. But that is not ethical journalism. Reporting truth is taking the facts and reporting what happened and what it means for the reader or viewer. He continued about finding news sources you trust — ones that don’t just spin facts to their own viewpoint but tell what happened and what it means.
He also discussed professional writing as not being for the faint of heart. It’s not an easy profession.
“If there are other jobs that you are considering that will make you happy,” he said, “then you should do those because it will make for an easier and happier life.”
On the flip side, he said, “Writing is rewarding if it’s in your blood.” Being a writer is incredibly meaningful, and being a writer has given Halberstadt purpose and is a privilege.
Overall, Halberstadt’s chat was encouraging and relaxing, he didn’t hold back and he gave good, rounded answers about what it is like to be a professional writer.