Because of its status as an excellent academic institution and the extensive environment of learning, invention and innovation it supports, Penn State does not find itself with a shortage of reputable graduates. Recently, one of those graduates came back to speak to students about the process of writing and give some insight into the life of a published author.
Journalist and author Jason Fagone visited Penn State Abington’s campus on Thursday, Nov. 19, and spoke to a group of students, answering questions about the field of professional writing, how to become a published author and what it takes to make a life of writing.
Fagone’s writing background begins with his work for Penn State University’s iconic newspaper The Daily Collegian. He said that this was where he received serious experience in journalism, sometimes even spending nights on a couch in the newspaper’s office after completing an exhaustive amount of work.
Fagone has since written for several publications, including Philadelphia, The Atlantic and Slate. Despite his success as a journalist, Fagone eventually decided that he “wanted to write longer things.” Thus began his endeavors in the realm of authorship.
In 2006 he published his first book “Horseman of the Esophagus,” a nonfiction work following the lives and accomplishments of professional competitive eaters (and yes, this included the iconic Philadelphia tradition, the Wing Bowl).
Continuing in this niche of investigative authorship, Fagone wrote another book titled “Ingenious,” which looks into innovative and revolutionary automotive engineering in America.
As he spoke about his life of writing and how he does his work, students began asking him questions about his writing process, one of which was the unavoidable “Where do you get your ideas?”
His response came in the form of a metaphor: “Imagine you’re in a forest, but can only see the trunks of the trees. You start to climb one, only to find nothing up there, but sometimes the tree gets more interesting as you climb. That’s how I decide what to write about.”
When prompted by another question asking if he actually likes the process of writing, Fagone said, “There’s a certain feeling. You want to feel a certain way about what you’re doing, and listen to your own excitement.”
Following this he talked about what it’s like to get a book published, how to put together a proposal to try to convince a publisher to print the book, and how he begins his research on a chosen topic.
He then moved on to the issue of science writing, which was the reason many of the students were gathered to see him in the first place, being enrolled in a science writing course taught by Dr. Liliana Naydan. Fagone said that he didn’t initially think he would get involved in science writing, but just sort of found himself pursuing a topic related to a specific field — mechanical engineering.
While he still doesn’t consider himself an expert on engineering or vehicles, Fagone does appreciate the intricacies involved in the sciences and even said that, if given the chance to go back to his undergraduate years, he would have taken more science courses.
Fagone’s contribution to the world of letters is considerable and interesting, and if one should be so inclined, samples of his writing can easily be found online. He may be back on campus at a later time, possibly after the release of his newest book “The Cryptologists,” which focuses on American women codebreakers in the world wars.
Another visit would be promising, especially as he mentioned that he “likes being around Penn State people.” After all, who doesn’t?