Non-fiction Writer, Journalist, and A&M Professor James McGrath Morris Advises Future Writers

By: Grace Armstrong

James McGrath Morris, author, former journalist and high school teacher, explained his top 10 rules of writing non-fiction Thursday during a presentation to students in Baylor University’s Journalism Department.

“We know you don’t want to sacrifice your children, but sometimes you must for the greater good,” he said.

Morris spoke to future journalists during their writing and reporting departmental exit exam.  He was not referring to the literal children of these students, but to the unnecessary pieces of writing that these students could get attached to in their future works. 
 Before his speech, several journalism students waited in anticipation.

“He’s a New York Times best seller, so I think it will be exciting to hear from him,” said Brooke Melton, a Baylor sophomore.

“I’m excited to see what he has to say,” said Tristen Coffee, a freshman journalism major.

Of his many biographies, Morris’s most recent was “Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, The First Lady of the Black Press."

“I discovered while writing her story and why I am grateful, is she helped me get in touch with my own internal biases that I grew up with, that I didn’t know I had,” he said, “That was her gift to me.”

Morris focused on the impact that storytelling has in the world.

“The greatest power journalism has is the ability to light the dark recesses of society,” he said.

Morgan Kilgo, a freshman journalist major at Baylor, said she felt inspired by his talk.
“It honestly hit me really hard when he said that journalism can be the light in the darkness,” she said. “It amazes me that the truth doesn’t need to be played up.  The real things going on in life are the big things we want to hear about, and as a journalist you get to report it and its impactful and it’s bringing light into a situation.  That’s why I’m in this major—that’s why I want to be a journalist.”

Several professors listened to Morris speak.  Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez, Ph.D., a journalist and Baylor professor, commented on the power of storytelling for individuals.

“The power of story telling has always been important; however, it is evolving.  I think now individuals have more opportunities for storytelling because there are more platforms than there have been in the past,” she said.

Morris closed his talk by offering a few last words of advice.

“The path to being a writer is being a journalist,” he said, “and the secret to writing is writing, and the second secret to writing is reading.”

He inspired many students, and their stories as journalists are just beginning.  

“The most effective end to a story is the one that kind of leaves us dangling,” he said.