Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ashley Parker, UPenn '05 — NYT Magazine Feature Writer

During college, I took both of the classes that Paul Hendrickson taught. English 145 and English 155.

English 145, Advanced Non-fiction Writing, in that nook of a room at the end of the second floor. Filled with easy chairs and sofas. Three non-fiction pieces, the first a personal memoir, the second two — go out and find the stories and show their characters.

English 155, Writing in the Documentary Tradition, just up the stairs and to the left — around the table. Follow a topic, a person, a place for an entire semester. Own the experience. Bring it to life. I chose the Penn basketball stadium, the Palestra, "College basketball's most historic gym," as many know it.

Hendrickson went by PH — from the first e-mail he wrote to the class, colloquially among the students and straight to his face. He was a writer. Yes, teaching at a university. But a writer first and foremost —none of the formalisms, please.

After thirty years at the Washington Post, writing features, a few books along the way, he found his way to Penn to teach.

"You need to feel the words between your fingers," he'd say, rubbing his thumb and fore-finger together. "You feel it?"

Ashley Parker's writing had that texture. Always.

Her award-winning piece about Penn's high-stakes poker players. Her documentary following a resident at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The DP feature on Communications Dean Kathleen Hall Jamieson, which underwent revisions in that nook on the second floor of the Kelly Writer's House.

I took both of PH's class with Ashley. We served on the Daily Pennsylvanian's 119th board of editors together.

In a class filled with writers who had to apply to get into these non-fiction workshops, where we work-shopped our pieces on a weekly basis, she blew us all out of the water.

During one of the final classes of our Doc Seminar, Eliot Sherman said, "Parker — you're going to make it."

We haven't spoken since graduation in 2005. But her cover story in the Times Magazine rocks my world.

This NYT Magazine Cover Story indeed marks her arrival.

Well done, Parker.

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