‘The Nation’s Poet’ shows what a good profile looks like and how it works

As Roy Peter Clark writes for the Poynter Institute, we should thank Rosalind Bentley for reminding readers and writers alike of what a good profile looks like and how it works. She writes an elegant, insightful profile of the U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Bentley’s profile creates a big picture of the Trethewey’s life by stitching together a litany of narrative fragments from poet’s past. Bentley beautifully interweaves Trethewey’s poetry into the profile to give readers a feel for the poet’s voice as well as a window into her perspective on her life story.  What we read are two voices telling the story, but what we are hear is one voice on many different levels because Bentley allows Trethewey to tell her story through interviews and poetry. We also notice how Bentley goes against the profiling grain and tells the Trethewey’s story chronologically, including bolded dates before new sections. This chronological organization works for this story because Bentley then uses the present tense to narrate scenes from the past, transporting the reader into the story. Bentley also does a terrific job of including a savvy selection of details, which she gathers from shadowing Trethewey.

If I were to critique this story in anyway, I would say that Bentley could have used more sources. She uses many “sources” that are not people, such as Trethewey’s poetry and journal entries, to tell the story. However, as a reader, I am interested the perspective of her biological father, Eric Trethewey, on his daughter, the U.S. poet laureate and her struggles with her mother’s murder and her biracial identity. I think one should also talk to Trethewey’s brother, Joe. These interviews could add more levels to the story.

In writing my profile, I tried to incorporate many of the things that made Bentley’s profile successful. My subject, Nico Sandi, has a biracial background similar to Trethewey. His mother is Croatian and his father is Bolivian. During our interview, I asked how he experienced his biracial identity as well as how he experienced being caught between American and Bolivian cultures. I found he had a lot to say about his experiences. Like Trethewey, Sandi is an artist: he plays the bass and the drum and enjoys photography. Taking a lesson from Bentley, I included photos and music by Sandi in my photostory to give readers a feel for Sandi’s creative force and aspects of his life story.

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One response to “‘The Nation’s Poet’ shows what a good profile looks like and how it works”

  1. kboyle says :

    Nice analysis. I think those are some great ideas for sources. Using journals, poetry, etc. can be effective but I think additional “human” sources really can add some character to a story like this.

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