Writing Freedom: Turning Primary Documents to Narrative Nonfiction
9:00am – 4:00pm
The American Revolution never ended. Many events since the time of the nation’s founding that we tend to think of on their own—the Civil War, to give one gigantic example—are in fact extensions of it. That’s because the American Revolution was fundamentally a promise of freedom, and the freedom that came with the formal end of hostilities in 1783, momentous as it was, was only partial. Traditional accounts of the Revolution assume that there were two sides: the British and the American colonists. But in fact there were many “sides,” many different people clamoring over freedom. While the region of North America that broke with England was English in a sense, it was also Iroquois, Cherokee, and Shawnee. It was African. It was Irish, Dutch, and German. It was male and female. It was rich and poor, powerful, and powerless. This Master Class will be based on Shorto’s forthcoming book: Revolution Song: A Story of American Freedom. This nonfiction narrative weaves together the lives of six people from the revolutionary era: a slave, a native American, a loyalist woman, a founding father (George Washington), a shoemaker-patriot, and a British aristocrat. We will explore the nature of narrative, the use of primary sources, and the idea of “freedom”—what it has meant in American history, why it means different things to different people, and why the American project is still unfinished.
Russell Shorto is an American author, historian and journalist, best known for his book on the Dutch origins of New York City, The Island at the Center of the World. His forthcoming book Revolution Song: A Story of American Freedom will be published in November 2017.