The best stories aren't all fiction

The Daily Pennsylvanian
February 20, 2007

Media Credit: Matt Cianfrani
Mark Bowden, journalist and the author of 'Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War,' speaks to students and the public at the Kelly Writer's House

Mark Bowden is a living example of how you don't have to write fiction to create a great story.

Bowden, author of the bestselling book Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, visited the Kelly Writers House yesterday afternoon. He was invited by professor Dick Polman for his Advanced Journalistic Writing Class.

Students sat for over an hour in the small, unusually packed living room, listening to stories of Bowden's life as a journalist and writer.

After publishing the book, Bowden helped adapt his novel to the movie Black Hawk Down, which subsequently won two Oscars. The film was "the best two-hour-long commercial for the book," Bowden said.

Bowden hopes on seeing both of his latest books, Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw and Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam, turned into movies as well.

Bowden's storytelling and accessibility motivated many students to attend the event.

"He has a natural ability for storytelling, which made this event all the more interesting" said College freshman Colin Jacobsen.

"It was a cool opportunity" added College freshman Sarah Gearhart, "especially if it is [the authors] that come directly to talk to us."

Bowden explained the elements he uses to distinguish possible subject matters for his writing. He clarified that he does not only look for war and conflict as subjects.

"War is war. It has been the same for thousands of years," Bowden said. "I have never been motivated by major events - … more for stories with particular resonance."

Bowden added that journalistic investigation has had an important role in all of his books.

He used his latest book, Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam, as an example.

Guests focuses on the 1979 hostage crisis that occurred at the U.S. Embassy in Iran - "one of the most important points of modern history," Bowden said.

Bowden described how he read over roughly 30 books and interviewed almost all of the 25 remaining hostages and terrorists in order to get enough information to mold the story. He was fortunate enough to use research that was conducted by previous journalists after the hostages were released.

"I do not wish to reform politics: I merely keep working on it until I arrive at an understanding of what happened," he said.