The Mercyhurst English department hosted the second virtual literary festival event on Thursday, April 1, 2021.
The event featured Stephanie Gorton, a journalist and author of “Citizen Reporters,” a book about Mc-Clure’s Magazine and the rise of investigative journalism.
“Gorton led an insightful work-shop for writing students earlier in the week. She detailed her own career path and offered advice on how to get started. She also noted the increasing number of jobs out there for people with research and editing skills—because established authors will hire them to assist with all stages of their projects,” associate dean of Hafenmaier College, Jeffery Roessner Ph.D., said.
Gorton graduated from the University of Edinburgh and the MFA program in creative nonfiction at Goucher College. She has written for numerous publications, including NewYorker.com, Smithsonian.com, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Toast and The Millions. She has also edited for Canongate Books, The Overlook Press and Open Road. Gorton resides in Providence, Rhode Island.“Ms. Gorton is our first non-fiction writer featured in the literary festival. Since her talk and workshop were so well-received, I predict that we will be open to more non-fiction in future festivals,” professor of English, Christy Rieger, Ph.D., said.
One of the most important characters in her book “Citi-zen Reporters” is Samuel Sidney McClure, better known as S. S. McClure. He came from poverty and near homelessness as well as suffering from some form of depression, which unfortunately was never diagnosed.
He grew up in Ireland, but he and his family moved to America after his father died.
Once in America, McClure became a printer’s assistant, which was the first time he was involved in any type of journalism.
He went to Knox College in Illinois and worked on the school newspaper. McClure managed to save up enough money to produce a magazine, which later became one of the most popular magazines of its time.
“I was particularly interested in her reading from ‘Citizen Reporters: S.S. McClure, Ida Tarbell, and the Magazine that Rewrote America’ and learning more about local hero Ida Tarbell,” said Department of English chair, Brain Reed, Ph.D. “As an English professor, I was also delighted to hear about the connection of ‘McClure’s Magazine’ to writers like Robert Louis Stevenson.”
Another character that Gorton writes about is Ida Tarbell who grew up in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Her family went bankrupt at the hands of John D. Rockefeller, founder of the Standard Oil Company. However, she did go to Allegheny College where she became very interested in writing. Upon graduating, she began a teaching career, but soon grew tired of it.
Tarbell went on to edit a magazine that was run by the Chautauqua Institution, and soon became acquainted with McClure. She moved to Paris where she wrote articles that would be sent to McClure. He loved her writing and offered her a job working on his magazine, and she accepted.
Tarbell is best known for her writing about Standard Oil, which she was moved to write because of how the corporation had person-ally affected her family. Her goal was to write literature that would move people to make changes to the current problems affecting them.
“Reporter Ida Tarbell was a woman way ahead of her time in the late 19th Century, especially given the limited opportunities for women. She conducted deep research on her subjects yet turned them into compelling human-interest stories and into page turners. In fact, that’s what Ms.Gorton achieved in her own book about Tarbell and McClure. I respected the book’s research at the same time as I found it hard to put down,” Rieger said.
McClure and Tarbell both were called “muckrakers,” a term that alluded to the muckrake in “Pilgrim’s Progress,” a book written by John Bunyan that was published in 1678.
Even President Theodore Roosevelt disproved the corruption-focused articles in McClure’s Magazine. However, there was no denying that the magazine had a huge impact on its readers and put investigative journalism on the map.
“At the reading itself, Gorton gave a vivid impression of her two main characters, S.S. McCall and Ida Tarbell, and really demonstrated the power of investigative journalism to take on corporate and political corruption,” said Roessner. “I saw it as a sustained argument for how important the free press is for a functioning democracy—a lesson that we as Americans seem to need to be taught over and over again.”
“Stephanie Gorton spoke authentically about her relationship with research collection, the writing process, navigating the world of publishing and more. As an aspiring writer, I found the information offered to be invaluable,” said senior English major Megan Siegfried. “Her enthusiasm for the work has motivated my own writing efforts, which, I think, is always a goal of our Literary Festival’s speaker series.”