Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities
For my writing internship with the Phi Beta Kappa Society's alumni magazine, The Key Reporter, I was asked to write an article highlighting the accomplishments of Patricia Meyer Spacks, the 2012 recipient of the Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities. This was my first writing assignment for the publication, so in addition to researching the award, Patricia Meyer Spacks, and her work, I also needed to research Phi Beta Kappa and The Key Reporter, considering I was unfamiliar with the society's goals and values prior to having this position.
Not having undergone organizational individuation and feeling like an outsider, merely contributing to the organization, writing this first piece for The Key Reporter required a lot of conscious decision making. I conducted some research on the organization and from that, as well as my own assumptions, I knew it would be most appropriate to apply a respectful and reverent tone in the piece congratulating Spacks.
To find a common ground between readers and myself, I consulted a well-known and well-respected publication to supplement my article: The New York Times. I found a recent article on Spacks’ book, On Rereading. I wanted to build the article’s ethos but knew well enough not to consult a publication I was completely unfamiliar with as I feared my unfamiliarly would come across in my writing. Though the award was not presented to Spacks for this particular book, I wanted to contextualize her as an author and contribute to strengthening her ethos by discussing a notable work receiving the most recent attention. The assumptions I made of the audience (that they are a group of well-read intellectuals) supported my choice to reference a book she wrote, not necessarily because I assumed the audience would have read it, but that they would relate to the content it discusses.
Still questioning my role as the speaker, though, I didn’t want to come across as trying too hard to be formal. The past has proven that to be ineffective. To soften the tone so it would be more genuine, I introduced my discussion of On Rereading with a question that I believed would more actively involve readers with the piece: "Have you ever found yourself picking up a book you've already read, either from your childhood or later on in life, for no purpose other than pure enjoyment?" It was the question that came to me when thinking about Spacks work; I hoped it would inspire thought in the readers as well.
Though I believe this piece was sufficient for my first contribution, I would have approached the assignment differently if I had the chance to do it again. After being exposed to more methods of inquiry and their interplay in writing compelling pieces, I now see how much stronger the piece would have been if I made an effort to speak to Spacks directly. I was unable to find a lot of information about her on the Internet, so I relied on the articles I came across discussing On Rereading. I was lucky in that her most recent work was very interesting and on a topic that a lot of people can relate to, but if I talked to her, I wouldn’t have to rely on using it in the bulk of my piece. I would have found out more about her as a humanitarian and provided readers with a better understanding of why she is deserving of the reward she received.
This first assignment was testing. I made an effort to self-select article topics for the rest of the term so I would be more engaged by the material. As I reflect, though, I see how I could have improved my attempt at covering this topic and feel I would be more fit to address it now than I was at the time.