I’m a narrative non-fiction journalist and professor of communication who now lives in Seattle. I enjoy writing stories and teaching classes about human rights and cultural imaginations — or, as I call them, “I-Mage-nations.” That’s a reference to the way in which we are all “Mages,” magicians in exploring our world.
Writing, after all, is about casting lines of words into the world and seeing what they reveal. My own passions take me into topics such as freedom of speech, sexuality, geography, and nature.
As a college student, I was lucky enough to mingle with strong Southern writers like Miller Williams while studying in New Orleans, blessed to intern for The Washington Post while Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham were running the show, and then fortunate to migrate to Stanford where the legendary political journalist William Rivers and the gifted political philosopher Eric Vogelin offered their mentorship.
The Jesuits who ran Loyola University in New Orleans also powerfully influenced me. I was an undergraduate during what were the disruptively freeing years of Vatican II and Vietnam, sitting in New Orleans cafes listening to the best of the Jesuit thinkers — who were usually both the most radical and the most mystical.
After graduate school at Stanford, I headed for the desert around Los Angeles because there was another legendary journalist to learn from, Norman Cherniss of the Pulitzer-Prize winning Riverside Press-Enterprise. I wrote about immigrant rights, Native American struggles, the pollution and preservation of the California Desert, agribusiness techology, and the criminal justice system — as well as the usual diet of murders, fires, plane crashes, floods and other assorted catastrophes.
Wanderlust — and a few bad seasons of Los Angeles smog — took me to Seattle where I landed an assignment from the Jesuits to nudge a sorely outdated Journalism program into the latter 20th century. As chair for almost a quarter-century of what eventually became a Communication Department, I enjoyed catalyzing new directions in the professional Journalism major as well as an additional professional majors in Strategic Communications and a liberal arts major, Communication Studies. I also assisted with launching other university programs in Asian Studies, International Studies, and Gender Studies. I also launched the university’s first summer abroad programs in China and Tibet.
Unfortunately, in 2016 the Communication Department opted to end its strong professional focus in Journalism and Strategic Communications. Because of that and my desire to be in a program more aware of issues of diversity, I moved to Seattle University’s Women and Gender Studies program, though I remain a professor of communication and, of course, a narrative journalist.
Over the years, I have freelanced articles about the environment as well as about archbishops defying the Vatican. I’ve helped the Quaker’s American Friends Service Committee start programs aimed at AIDS education for people of color (in the 1980s) and at serving LGBTQ youth (in the 1990s). I wrote three journalistic books: Reporting with Understanding (with the above-mentioned Bill Rivers), Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging and Imagining Gay Paradise: Bali, Bangkok and Cyber-Singapore. And as any university professor does, I took on a range of short consulting gigs, perhaps the most interesting one being a State-Department sponsored training for LGBT activists in Cambodia.
My repertoire of courses includes “Communication Justice, Law and Rights,” “Sex, God and Free Speech,” “Sexual Storytelling,” “Narrative Non-Fiction Writing,” “Rhetorical Foundations of Communication,” “News Writing,” “Reporting Public Affairs,” “News Editing,” “International Communication: China” and “International Communication: Tibet.” The latter two included introducing students on summer field trips to Lhasa, Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Lijiang and the Chinese side of Mongolia.
My next writing journey? Several projects are in the works.
The adventure of non-fiction writing and of being a “Mage” always calls and unfolds in new ways….
For a short copy of my Curriculum Vitae, click: Atkins CV_2014