Roy Peter Clark began Monday’s Catalyst Sessions at the piano, performing an original, Jimmy Buffett-esque calypso song about St. Petersburg’s long association with its official bird, the brown pelican.
One day I looked up at a clear blue sky
A squadron of birds, they were flying high
And oops, just like that
They all pooped on my hat!
I consider myself quite a lucky guy
Clark, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies writing teacher who has authored and/or edited 19 books about writing and journalism, was instrumental in getting the gawky seabird its designation earlier this year, so it seemed only fitting that he should sing its … praises.
That wry sense of humor has been Clark’s calling card for all of his 40-some years in St. Pete as a writer and a writing coach of international renown. His book Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies For Every Writer has sold over a quarter million copies and has been translated into eight languages.
On The Catalyst Sessions, talk turned serious when it had to – about the wobbly definitions of news and media in contemporary America, and about the unrest and uncertainty burning across the country this week.
He reminisced about legendary journalist Eugene Patterson, who as editor and CEO of the St. Petersburg Times, brought Clark to town as the paper’s first writing coach in 1977.
“I came for what was supposed to be a one-year visit,” Clark said. “Nelson Poynter (Times owner and publisher) died in June of 1978. And so the mechanism for the creation of his school – what became the Poynter Institute – became an opportunity for me to continue my work.
“But before we did that, Mr. Patterson and I agreed that I should come into the newsroom as a writer, and try my hand and learn the craft all over again. But from the perspective of a journalist.”
So he spent a few years working alongside reporters on their respective beats, observing their interview techniques and studying their procedures.
“It occurred to me early,” he explained, “it wouldn’t do the newspaper any good to have me writing the same kinds of stories that other reporters would do.
“If I wanted to grow as a teacher and a writer, I wanted to kind of test the form of newspaper writing. And I wanted readers not to be shocked, but to read something that I wrote and say ‘How the heck did that get in the paper?’ And either laugh or cry.”
Tonight on The Catalyst Sessions: Dancer and choreographer Andee Scott.
Streaming at 7 p.m. weekdays on the Catalyst Facebook page.