The Quest for Poignant Stories

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Unaware he was nominated for the New England Journalism Educator of the Year award, Marty Dobrow nearly missed the notification that he was this year’s chosen recipient. He assumed the blue envelope that landed in his mailbox during the busy month of April was a letter of thanks for bringing students to a journalism job fair the previous week. It wasn’t until later in the day that he decided to open it.

He was flattered and surprised to be recognized for his contribution to the areas of writing and teaching. Acknowledging his students and colleagues, the Springfield College professor since 1999 also says the award “doesn’t happen without a lot of people doing good work.”

Marty encourages his students “to be inspired by the mission of journalism for it is a mighty responsibility to tell peoples’ stories.” As much as his students force him to be in the present and keep him feeling young, rather than dusty and archaic, he impresses upon them the importance of respecting the leap of faith subjects have with sharing their stories.

Janice recently wrote a piece on Marty’s award for Springfield College’s Triangle magazine. The two formerly worked together at the Daily Hampshire Gazette and enjoyed reconnecting and catching up; Janice especially enjoyed hearing Marty talk about the ways in which he inspires students. She also appreciated his passion for telling stories.

Most of Marty’s stories have represented athletes. In recent years, his focus has been shifting into more civil rights issues and other human interest stories, although he says his “quest for the deep poignant story that goes to the heart” remains the same.

Marty is currently working on a book about the time period between the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, to the signing of the Civil Rights Document on July 2, 1964, drawn into the “shimmering optimism…that contains a lot of darkness in it,” he says.

He chose this focus for it is a “transformative and heartbreaking time period,” and it is one of those cultural moments that are significant enough for people to remember exactly where they were and what was going on when it happened.

Marty has had a lifelong interest in Martin Luther King Jr. and vividly remembers the day he died, even though he was a naive 7-year-old kid, because of the effect his death had on his mother. After a few years at Springfield College, Marty discovered that Martin Luther King Jr. was a commencement speaker there in 1964. He was so fascinated by the story that Marty wrote an article for Triangle in 2004.

“It was the genesis for my book project,” he says. He was “obsessively fascinated” with the topic and couldn’t help but dig further, starting the book project roughly three to four years ago. There are five main characters, including Martin Luther King Jr. The other four had brief but significant interactions with him. Marty continues to publish small parts as a way of doing research to help lay the road work for the book, including a four-part series on Marshall Irving Bloom that was recently published in The Daily Hampshire Gazette. (Read installment one, two, three, and four.)

Teaching during the college semesters is very demanding, making the book a slow process because it isn’t like building a deck, where you can just pick up where you left off the day before. He says he has “to mentally plunge into it.” He dedicates mornings whenever possible to writing as he is most lucid and alive.

In researching, there is continuous reading about the time period, immersing himself in it, as well as talking to people involved. He tries to “authentically connect with people” and seeks poignant stories of people that take risks, live on the edge and where it resonates in his heart.

This summer, Marty is heading to Washington state to interview and spend time with one of the characters, a young southern girl back then who put herself on the line for civil rights and was arrested with Martin Luther King Jr. He has done some phone interviews with her, but his endless curiosity of the world intrigues him to visit for more in-depth interactions.

Marty uses a countdown timer when writing to make sure he focuses and doesn’t get sidetracked. He tells himself, “This day matters. Don’t sell it short. Use it well. The fierce urgency of now,” quoting Martin Luther King Jr. from his “I Have a Dream” speech. The Fierce Urgency of Now is currently a potential working title for his project.

This gratifying yet challenging book is an important and “more ambitious project” than his others, Marty says. It is two years from completion, he hopes. Even though the progress is slow and sometimes he feels like he is slogging away, he has a willingness to keep moving forward to complete this complicated, textured story.

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