Though I have always thought of myself as a writer more than a teacher, I somehow found myself in teaching situations over the years, and I’ve always enjoyed the challenge. It started with the Peace Corps, when I graduated from UCLA and wound up being asked to teach at the Ghana Institute of Journalism in West Africa. When I returned to the U.S. four years later I spent one semester as a substitute teacher at my former high school in Jericho, Long Island. When someone I knew became the director of Antioch College/L.A. he asked if I would join him as an assistant director and I soon found myself developing a Masters in Professional Writing program, which I directed for four years. When my first daughter was born, I decided to stop teaching and just write, which I did for 20 years, until I was asked by the Chairman of the English Department at UCLA if I would teach what I had learned as a freelance writer. Over the next 10 years I taught four seminars: The Art of the Interview, The Literature of Journalism, Articles to Film, and Autobiography and Memoir Writing. During this time I was occasionally asked to lecture at different universities, at journalism and writers organizations, film festivals, museums, Turner Broadcasting, on cruise ships, at retirement communities, and even at health spas. I was also asked by Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, to write a book about interviewing, which I did. And then followed up that book (The Art of the Interview), with a sequel, You, Talking to Me, about the lessons I learned from interviewing.
Here’s what I’m available to talk about.
1. 20 Lessons Learned From Interviewing the Famous & the Infamous
When the National Scholastic Press Association asked if I would deliver a keynote address in 2010, I asked them what they would like me to talk about. They said, Why not talk about what you’ve learned as an interviewer? So I put together 20 examples of what I learned from interviewing people like Marlon Brando, Mae West, Norman Mailer, Barbra Streisand, Saul Bellow, Luciano Pavarotti, and Dolly Parton. The lecture went well and I tried it again when I went to Rancho la Puerta, in Tecate, Mexico. What I learned from talking about what I’ve learned is that people of all ages like to hear the behind-the-scenes stories about the people I’ve interviewed.
For this lecture, I talk about some of the people I interviewed for cable TV (Playboy on-the-air). After I set the scene and talk about how these interviews went down, I show the edited interviews, which are each about 8 minutes long. I still get a kick out of hearing some of the outrageous or controversial things that these people said.
3. Living the Freelance Life
I begin when I was 10 years old, going to interview an old woman who lived in a house that went back to the Revolutionary War on Long Island, then jump to Ghana, where I interviewed a sculptor named Vincent Kofi, and then to how I started interviewing people for Newsday’s Sunday magazine and then Playboy. It’s a long journey, but the audience stays with me. And I open it up for questions in the end.
4. Writing Your Life: a Seminar in Memoir Writing
This began as a 10 week course for the Honors Program at UCLA. When I was asked to do a 3-day workshop at Rancho la Puerta, I honed down what I did over 10 weeks and it worked! In the first hour, we discuss what memoirs and autobiographies are, I give out some excerpts from Klaus Kinski, Philip Roth, Gore Vidal, Marlon Brando, etc and ask people to write something while we’re all together. I then give out a few writing assignments that we workshop over the next two days. What keeps me returning to this is that some of the writing is phenomenal, and people get immediate feedback, and see that if they can write like that in a day or two, what could they do on their own over time?
5. The Art of the Interview
This is a lecture where I talk about the difference between the craft and the art of interviewing. There is a difference.
6. The Literature of Journalism
I enjoy turning people on to good writing, and there are so many good nonfiction writers. I start with Hemingway and Fitzgerald but concentrate more on the wonderful era when Joseph Mitchell, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Gay Talese, Truman Capote, Elizabeth Gilbert and Hunter Thompson were in their prime. What usually happens with this is that people read some of these writers’ work and then go to their books.
7. WRITING STORIES: IGNITING YOUR MAKE-BELIEVE
We all have stories. Some we share with friends and family; others lay dormant in our subconscious. Everyone can talk a good story; not everyone can write one. But there are ways to spark one’s imagination, to help one bring out the story within. That’s the aim of this workshop. To get at our inner make-believe. Stories revive us, challenge us, startle us, and offer fresh perspectives on our world. “The more you respect and focus on the singular and strange,” mused Gail Godwin, “the more you become aware of the universal and the infinite.” Let us, then, muse on the singular and strange. And reach for the infinite!
1. Writing Your Life: a Seminar in Memoir Writing
A seminar in self-analysis. Understanding oneself and others by looking inward. Uncovering the highlights and the traumas of one’s life; shaping and structuring them into a narrative. “A memoir,” Gore Vidal wrote in the introduction to his, “is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked.” The final product of this seminar is the completion of the first chapter of one’s memoir. Once you’ve got that, the rest is easy.
“Grobel’s class is unparalleled in teaching students the relevance of such skills in the modern world, and I have applied more of the lessons learned in his classroom to my jobs, internships, and social life than from any other course that I have taken.”—Julia Pacher
“Although close to six years have passed since taking this course, the knowledge acquired within the span of 10 short weeks continues to greet me in everyday experiences – social, work, and academic environments alike. The course’s real-world practicality is coupled by the uncanny level of concern taken by the instructor”—Jennifer Cici
2. The Art of the Interview
How to prepare to talk with people; learning to listen; knowing when to encourage, to probe, to change subjects. Analyzing what celebrities and writers have to say. Structuring a conversation for publication. Understanding the nature of freelancing. Studying magazines for content, poetry for inspiration, books for resource.
The skills of an interviewer encompass a broad range of talents: You must be able to converse like a talk show host, think like a writer, understand subtext like a psychologist, have an ear like a musician, be able to select the best parts like an editor, and put it together like a playwright.
In the Art of the Interview students conduct interviews both in and out of class with well known personalities (such as Jonathan Safran Foer, Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Anthony Kiedis, and producer Mike Medavoy); then learn how to edit their work, and refine these pieces into nimble profiles, hopefully infused with humor, insight, and the delicious turn of phrase that would have made Samuel Clemens proud. The object is to learn to dig deep and develop a personal sense of style. To help enforce these skills, students keep a detailed journal and practice writing through descriptive exercises.
* * *
“He was the first professor I had at UCLA who saw me as someone not only capable of learning something important, but doing something important. He taught me far more than how to interview someone. He made me a better listener. (And is there a more valuable life skill than that?) He made me a better editor. He made me a better writer. And he taught me how to ask questions. (And more importantly, the right questions). They are skills that benefit me to this day.”—Mike Maloney
“In his acclaimed Art of the Interview course, Grobel breaks down the critical life skill of talking with people. He walks students through the process, and then lets them try on their own. Students routinely interview high-profile figures as their final project, and take with them a confidence that will later translate into landing a job.”—Matt Stevens
3. The Literature of Journalism
The Literature of Journalism will take a look at numerous magazine pieces that have transcended “reporting” in the traditional sense. These works, although they first appeared in periodicals (an inherently ephemeral medium), are fresh and relevant today, and are among the finest, and most lasting, contributions to post-WWII American literature. Students will be expected to do all the reading; we will dissect at least five pieces each class. Exposure to these seminal works of modern journalism (published in magazines like The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, Esquire, GQ, and Vanity Fair showcasing the work of authors such as Joan Didion, Truman Capote, Elizabeth Gilbert, Tom Junod, Gay Talese, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hunter Thompson, and Joseph Mitchell) helps students develop the creative skills they’ll need for writing their own well-researched full-length articles.
* * *
“Because of the real-world knowledge that Mr. Grobel imparted on me regarding conducting interviews for publication, how to write articles and interviews, and how to stay motivated to write, I now regularly write for a southern California lifestyle magazine. I would never have had the information, drive, or knowledge of how to land a job and write for publication if it wasn’t for Mr. Grobel’s class.”—Elizabeth Coleman
“He’s the kind of teacher who inspires, motivates, counsels, coaches, shares his life lessons, and, sends you out to learn your own. I am now a journalist working for a newspaper in the Middle East and nearly every time I conduct an interview, I think of Larry’s guidelines. In a relatively closed environment where officials are reluctant to speak, reporting restrictions are rife and answers are given in remarkably circuitous fashions, the lessons I learnt in Larry’s class are essential.” — Rosamund de Sybel
4. Articles to Film
Articles to Film crosses genres by exploring the transition of prose to film through the critical analysis of non-fiction articles that have been turned into both screenplays and motion pictures (such as All About Eve, The Insider, Black Hawk Down, Saturday Night Fever, Almost Famous, Dog Day Afternoon, Adaptation, Shattered Glass, American Gangster, In the Valley of Elah). Analyzing the reviews and essays about these films provides another aspect of critical study. As there are so many aspiring screenwriters, this seminar compares and contrasts how screenwriters edit original source articles, and offers participants the chance to study article writing, film writing, and film criticism.
* * *
“‘Articles to Film’ is not just about watching film adaptations of articles, it is about learning from successful writers and having something tangible to which we can aspire. Grobel instilled a work ethic that I have no doubt will prove to be paramount in life, and equally, he gave us the confidence to aim for the acme of whichever career we choose.” –Jessica Noon
“Your seminar was the single most important educational experience I have had at UCLA.” –Tom Michael
“Although I enjoyed college, there is not one teacher that took time for me like you did or gave me a skill set that got my foot into the magazine world. Without your guidance in the art of prying and your vast knowledge of the industry, I wouldn’t be where I am today. There is no way that a year and half after graduating college I would be interviewing celebrities and writing cover stories for a national magazine without your classes. For that I feel forever grateful.” — Lecia Doss