Five Print Journalists You Can’t Miss Out On

Lists. For some reason I am a huge fan of lists. Listed below are the top five print writers who will never fail to serve as a source of inspiration for me. Their writings have made me laugh, cry and squirm in my seat. Each of their stories gives tremendous insight into the lives of people all over the world. Their talent and eye for a great story reach beyond any other journalists I have read. It’s not just one of their pieces that keep me on the edge, but collections of many. And because of this I hope, if you are into true life stories, you consider picking up their work so they can inspire you too.

Susan Orlean: It had been an extremely windy and cold day in Chicago when Susan Orlean came to speak to a lecture of about fifty people, including me. When she first walked into the room and up to the podium she looked a bit winded. Of course, the first words out of her mouth asserted concern of how she hadn’t been sure she was going to make it to the lecture. Maybe, she had thought, the wind would decide to take her away. Laughter filled the room and spilled out into the hallways of the building. For us Chicagoans, we all could relate.

Susan has been entertaining me with her work for years, and so when she showed up in Chicago with a great sense of humor, it didn’t surprise me. It’s one of the things I have always admired in her. I love her malleable writing style and how she can range from funny to serious in only a few sentences. Her quirky writing style is crafted like no other writer I have ever read. And the proof to this is her writings have been turned into movies. More specifically an article titled “Life’s Swell” is the basis to the movie “Blue Crush” starring Kate Bosworth.

In addition, Meryl Streep portrays Susan in the movie “Adaptation”, based on Susan’s book "Orchid Thief." (If you would like to know how this works, I suggest looking it up.)

According to Susan, she is able to type 120 wpm, which is why she probably has seven books out already and is working on an eighth. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Vogue, Rolling Stone, Esquire and Outside.

And finally, according to Susan her superpower is her mind control over chickens. Personally I’d say her superpower is the ability to give me a good laugh when I need it.

Mike Royko: I didn’t pick up one of Mike Royko’s book until he had already passed on, but when I finally did I remember the smile it brought to my face. Royko had been a famous columnist for the Chicago Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune.

To this day I still remember the first words of Royko’s I read and the message that resonated with me:

“When I was a kid, the worst of all days was the last day of summer vacation, and we were in the schoolyard playing softball, and the sun was down and it was getting dark. But I didn’t want it to get dark. I didn’t want the game to end. It was too good, too much fun. I wanted it to stay light forever, so we could go on playing forever, so the game would go on and on.
 That’s how I feel now. C’mon, c’mon. Let’s play one more inning. One more time at bat. One more pitch. Just one? Stick around guys. We can’t break up this team. It’s too much fun.
 But the sun always went down. And now it’s almost dark again.

-Royko on the death of the Chicago Daily News, March 3, 1978

During his career Royko was not afraid to stir up trouble, especially with former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley in his book Boss. Personally, I'm not to keen on reading his political columns, but more enjoy his pieces on the Chicago Cubs.

Want to read a bit of Royko’s work? I suggest the book "One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko." It's a collection of 100 of his best columns that his wife and friends put together after his death. Although Royko may be gone, his work lives on and continues to amuse people all over the nation.

Rick Kogan: It just so happens the next journalist was good friends with Royko.

This past summer I met up with Rick Kogan for dinner at the famous “Billy Goat Tavern.” While there Rick shared with me the draft of his new book “Sidewalks II: Reflections on Chicago.” Inside contains stories and photos that will personally put you into the streets of Chicago. It is a continuation of stories after the first book “Sidewalks: Portraits of Chicago."

(pictured below is a snapshot outside a Borders in Chicago, where the second book sits on the shelves)

Each page is a new story, a new look into the little known lives of people in Chicago. It covers businesses, places, and people one would not normally come across in the city. Rick traveled the streets of Chicago with his good buddy photographer Charles Osgood to capture these stories in words and in photos.

Rick’s stories are definitely right up my alley and if you like a good short story on the lives of others, I bet it would be right up yours too.

Alex Kotlowitz: I had been in Chicago at a national journalism convention when I heard Alex Kotlowitz would be attending. Excited, I decided to save the only $20 I had left with me to buy his book and get it signed by him. But while walking around Chicago that day I was pick pocketed. Being gracious, my journalism teacher gave me some money just so I could get the book. The money he gave me granted me a chance to read my first book ever of Alex’s: "The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America's Dilemma."

Currently I am reading “There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other Side of America”, a fascinating tale of two young boys growing up in the inner-city of Chicago. Written in 1991, Alex only spent on and off time with the family he portrayed, but judging from the descriptive, detailed writing I would have guessed he lived with them for years on end.

The story focuses on how gangs, drugs and violence affect children living in the Henry Horner Housing Projects on the near west side. Because of the gang fights and horrible sights these boys have witnessed though, their mother says, “you know, there are no children here. They’ve seen too much to be children.” It may not have the normal beginning, climax and end, but it will pull at your heart strings and open your eyes to another life you may have never experienced.

Steve Friedman:

Steve Friedman’s resume is impressive: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Esquire, GQ, The Best of Outside, The Bastard on the Couch, Modern Love, The Best American Travel Writing and many more. But even more, under his skills he can be sure to add “humble.” I met Steve a few years ago; his humbleness kind of caught me by surprise. For a man who has done so much I’m not exactly sure what I expected. Although I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started reading his work either and it made me pleasantly surprised. Steve’s book “The Agony of Victory: When Winning Isn’t Enough” portrays the lives of fourteen “ravaged champions and their painful journeys to grace.” The stories are unlike any other sports stories you will find elsewhere. Even if you aren’t a fan of sports, Steve’s tales in this book will still be sure to inspire you.


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