Pact Press sits down with Rob Waters who offers thoughtful insight on the writing craft and on the duty of writers in a polarized age. Pact Press is very proud to include Rob’s article, “In a Distressing Time, Harlem Girls Hold Fast to the DREAM,” in our inaugural anthology, Speak and Speak Again.
1. Most writers have day jobs and frequently have difficulty finding writing time. How do you manage it?
Making a living as a writer is no easy task for sure, whether you write fiction, memoir, or, in my case, journalism. I write a lot, for many publications and outlets, and combine my journalism with also writing reports, stories and “content” for nonprofit, public health and social justice-oriented organizations. This work is often inspiring, such as a series of articles I did called “Stories from Salinas” focused on youth organizations in Salinas, California on behalf of the Packard Foundation. I did a similar series on youth development organizations for the Thrive Foundation that can be found here.
2. How long have you been writing and do you perceive your writing to have evolved in any particular way that you would like to share?
I’ve been writing for a long time and I’m gravitated over the years from writing news and opinion stories to a much greater focus on narrative-style journalism that emphasized character and storytelling. For me, the best work combines uncovering new ideas and truths and conveying them in well-crafted long-form stories that surprise and excite.
3. What appealed to you about being a part of the Pact Press Speak and Speak Again anthology?
I was delighted to be part of an anthology focused on the importance of helping diverse voices to be heard and of showcasing cultures and people that seek to create common understanding and mutual respect and stand in contrast to the mean-spirited, xenophobic Trumpian worldview of materialism and self-enrichment.
4. What do you think is the responsibility of the writer in today’s polarized environment?
I think the responsibility of writers and journalists today is the same as it has always been, only the task is now more urgent: to give voice to people who are often voiceless, to celebrate diversity, to promote cultural understanding by writing with empathy and humility about those who are often marginalized and to expose the lies, manipulation and hypocrisy of the powerful — in other words, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
5. Much of your writing throughout your career has been about children and young people — why has this been such a focus?I am drawn powerfully to the stories of children and to the ways that so many powerful institutions from families to health care institutions to pharma companies mistreat, exploit and do damage to children’s psyches, spirits and bodies. A rapidly growing field of science is revealing that young children who go through adverse events like child abuse or trauma or who witness or directly experience violence are may suffer profoundly from these experiences for the rest of their lives. They are more likely to suffer from all kinds of health and mental health problems — all the way through adulthood. I find myself compelled to try and expose the ways we harm children and the ways that children and young people find ways to adapt and overcomes, reaffirming their, resilience, creativity and humanity.
Rob Waters is a Berkeley-based journalist who has been writing about health, science, criminal justice, and child and family issues for more than 25 years. He’s been on the staff of Bloomberg News, WebMD, and Time Inc. Health and spent six years as editor of the Tenderloin Times, a four-language San Francisco community newspaper. His articles have appeared in BusinessWeek, San Francisco magazine, Salon.com, Sierra, Columbia Journalism Review, the SF Chronicle Sunday magazine and the LA Times. His 2005 investigation for Mother Jones, “Medicating Amanda,” told the story of drug industry influence over prescribing guidelines in Texas and won the Casey Award. He co-authored From Boys to Men, published in 2004 by Simon & Schuster.
Connect with Rob: