Dear You,

I’ve been reading the work of a few literary journalists – Hunter S. Thompson, Truman Capote, Lillian Ross, for one of my classes, and I decided to take a shot at some literary journalism of my own. I recounted an interview that I saw of Guitar Red, a homeless blues guitarist in Atlanta, Georgia, a few weeks ago. Guitar Red has a record deal! Don’t I wish I could be so lucky! His managers called up their University of Florida interns to come up for the weekend to record a show, a music video and interviews with some of the artists, and I got to tag along.

Since the opportunity was so unique, I figured it might be a good time to take a stab at literary journalism – telling a story/painting a picture completely based on facts. One of the literary journalists I’m reading now, Carlos Frias, wrote a book – Take Me With You, recounting his first trip to Cuba when Castro stepped down. He was sent on assignment by the Palm Beach Post, but the 5-part series he wrote turned into a book, a very good book, at that!

 I felt like I was there with him, walking the streets of Cuba, eating an “everything pizza,” because his writing was so colorful and detailed. I have no idea how to capture such a real picture in my writing. Carlos has also written a piece on our Tebow, right after the Championship win, which also seemed too real! His language is so AHH! It’s awesome!

As I started to write my own piece, I started thinking about these questions. How do you define literary journalism? How do you keep journalists accountable and make sure that they are accurate in their reporting? It’s an interesting phenomenon.

If I describe an event from my point of view or perspective, then it is the truth – it’s my truth, but I guess it could be different from someone standing on the other side of the room who saw a little more or a little less than what I did. Maybe if someone knows the background story to an event, the truth would be even more different for him/her. This new wave of modern journalism has such potential, but must really be approached with caution because there’s so much wiggle room.

Here goes, I tried.


A Portrait of Guitar Red

Shrimp tails flower the grass in a park in Decatur, Georgia.

            An apparently homeless man sits on top of a picnic table with a wide, gap-toothed smile and a guitar, strumming its strings for the world to hear. The container of half-eaten shrimp sits next to him. With an old, worn scarf for a shoulder strap, college interns and his manager for an audience, Guitar Red plays.

            Some passersby stop to listen from a distance; others keep walking, looking back over their shoulders to get another look at the homeless man and the camera crew filming him.

            Red sits atop the table, playing soulfully for his audience, looking directly into the camera and speaking to his manager, Ben Rowell, who directed the interview. Rowell and his wife, Kim, own the record label Backspace Records and produce Red’s music.

“Gui-tar Red, that’s what they call me!” he yells, laughing into the camera. His laugh comes from deep within his belly, and it echoes throughout the entire park. It’s contagious.

You can’t help but smile at the older-looking man, clad in a red-checkered flannel shirt, blue pants, socks that ride half-way up his leg and worn shoes. He looks happy and at home holding his guitar, like a child snuggles a comfort blanket.

Every now and then, Red’s boisterous laugh and booming voice quiets, and he just plays, rocking back and forth, back and forth, to the rhythm of his songs.

“I wrote this one for my family,” Red says. Closing his eyes, he starts silently, rocking, playing a soulful, sobering blues melody. “Each string on the guitar is for my family, so I think of ‘em when I play,” he whispers, reminiscing, tears in his eyes. His family is all gone now.

            “I got my stuff to work on,” Red screams through his tears. “But cain’t nobody say that Guitar Red ain’t a good person.” Pushing his glasses up his nose bridge, Red strikes the chords on his instrument to a more jovial tune.

            Tears gone, he grins, laughing again.