Where Can I Find Self-Reflective Profiles?
July 8, 2008 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Where can I find examples of profile-writing that say as much about the profiler as the profilee?

This year I will be leading a publication project with my ninth-grade English language arts classes in which they profile members of their community (local artists, musicians, shopkeepers, civil workers, etc.). Hopefully, my students will be able to look at these people's accomplishments/struggles and think about who they want to be in the future and how they will contribute to the community themselves. I want them to strike a balance between writing about their interviewees and writing about themselves, but I can't think of any good works of this genre to use as model texts.

My students have a wide range of academic abilities including some with special needs. There is a significant proportion of English language learners, as the school is in a largely Hispanic neighborhood of Brooklyn. At the very least, we will look at Sandra Cisneros's vignettes in The House on Mango Street, and perhaps Ernesto QuiƱonez's Bodega Dreams.

What are your best suggestions for this group of young writers?
posted by themadjuggler to Education (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's a bit long, but Gene Weingarten wrote a very self-aware article on the Savoonga area in Alaska. It's a great profile of a people, an island, and the writer himself. He won a Pulitzer Prize this year for a different article, but this should have been his winner.

He's recently written a bunch of good profile articles. Also see his article on The Great Zucchini
posted by redarmycomrade at 12:25 PM on July 8, 2008

David Foster Wallace and Chuck Klosterman.
posted by ewiar at 1:05 PM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also check out Wallace's profile of Michael Joyce in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.
posted by ewiar at 1:07 PM on July 8, 2008

Best answer: Without turning this into a debate about David Foster Wallace, it's worth pointing out that he is very much an acquired taste, and also that magazine profiles that dwell on the profile writer are often considered by many people to be bad examples of the genre. But your goal is a totally great one. Perhaps thinking a bit laterally, I'd recommend chapters from Po Bronson's books, What Should I Do With My Life? and Why Do I Love These People? Some aren't so much about Bronson's interactions with his subjects, but many are, and they are lucid and inspiring and, what's more, focus on the themes of aspiration and community that you mention.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:33 PM on July 8, 2008

A long time ago, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a great piece on the Three Gorge Dam project in China for Spin and that made a huge impression on me as a teenage aspiring writer. It had all of her now-trademark wit and accessibility. I can't find it in a quick internet search, but I think it came out in 94 or 95, and should be findable through Lexis Nexis.
posted by lunasol at 2:04 PM on July 8, 2008

Po Bronson does this a lot.
posted by divabat at 2:33 PM on July 8, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, that Po Bronson recommendation looks great!

I'm a huge DFW fan, but I'm not sure how he'd play over with inner-city ninth-graders. I will definitely pick up his profile of Michael Joyce.

And thanks, everyone, for the advice so far!
posted by themadjuggler at 3:16 PM on July 8, 2008

It's fiction, but Nabokov's Pale Fire is a great one for this. Although if the kids you're teaching aren't familiar with literary criticism/biography as a genre -- and really, what percent of 9th graders are? -- they may be less excited. Perhaps you'd like it though.

Additionally, you might want to look for fiction with an unreliable narrator, since that genre (?) is about untangling the narrative from the narrator, if possible.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:20 PM on July 8, 2008

John McPhee. Some of his geology stuff is difficult, but the people he writes about - well, you want to be them, or at least meet them, and reading McPhee feels like you're hanging out with him. He doesn't come right out and say "I think blahblahblah" all over the place, but you get a real feel for him. He's written a ton of articles as well as books.

Here's the article about driving a long-distance truck. It became (or was taken from?) his book Uncommon Carriers. McPhee profiles a driver and goes along for the ride.
posted by rtha at 3:54 PM on July 8, 2008

Haha, this might be a little too *advanced* for your kids, but pretty much anything Hunter S. Thompson wrote about anyone else... (his obit of Nixon being favorite).
posted by paultopia at 12:12 AM on July 9, 2008

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