Columnist John Archibald is COM’s First Writer-in-Residence
New program to feature the Pulitzer-winner from Alabama
When Dean Mariette DiChristina (’86) asks alumni what from their time at COM has helped them succeed in their careers, she often hears a variation on a single answer: learning how to write well. When the college’s strategic plan was approved in 2020, it included an initiative to enhance the already strong writing offerings at COM, and a strategic committee of faculty and staff formed to brainstorm ways to do so. One of their ideas will debut in April when John Archibald, a veteran columnist for AL.com and The Birmingham News, arrives in Boston as COM’s inaugural writer-in-residence. During his April 3–7 residency, Archibald will speak in several of COM’s writing-specific courses, offer individual feedback on student writing in the COM Writing Center and deliver a plenary talk to the COM community.
“One of the goals is to help students envision what a professional writer looks like,” says Michael Dowding, a master lecturer in mass communication, advertising and public relations, and director of the Writer-in-Residence Program. “Writing can be a career and it can be a very fruitful and productive and exciting career—just as a pure writer.”
Archibald may just define “pure writer.” A decorated reporter and opinion writer, he was an ideal inaugural pick for the residency, Dowding says. For more than three decades, Archibald has been a trusted journalistic voice of the American South, first as a reporter with The Birmingham News, and since 2004 as a syndicated columnist whose writing regularly appears in The News, The Huntsville Times, The Mobile Press-Register in Clarksdale, Ala. and at AL.com. In 2018, Archibald was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary “for lyrical and courageous commentary that is rooted in Alabama but has a national resonance.” His columns frequently effect real-world change, too. In early 2022, Archibald broke open a story about predatory traffic ticketing practices in Brookside, Ala., which led to the resignation of the police chief and the resignation or dismissal of half the police force.
He’s done that great journalistic thing of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable—and he’s done that at the highest levels. He’s got a voice and a perspective that we found really refreshing because it was very nonacademic, very nonprofessorial.Michael Dowding
“He’s done that great journalistic thing of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable—and he’s done that at the highest levels,” Dowding says. “He’s got a voice and a perspective that we found really refreshing because it was very nonacademic, very nonprofessorial. It was one that’s much more born of real-world experience that we all think is something our students at COM will really enjoy and relate to and learn from.”
NPR named Archibald’s memoir, Shaking the Gates of Hell: A Search for Family and Truth in the Wake of the Civil Rights Revolution (Knopf, 2021), one of its “Books We Love” in 2021. Archibald also wrote a dark stage play called Pink Clouds, which is about “death and confusion in Alabama,” he’s said, and which debuted in Birmingham in September 2022.
Students will have several opportunities to meet and engage with Archibald while he’s on campus: His plenary lecture is scheduled for Tuesday, April 4, at 2 p.m. in the Eichenbaum Colloquium Room in the Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering; he will also speak to students and answer questions in select classes throughout the week; and he will host a two-hour workshop in the COM Writing Center on Wednesday, April 5, from 3–5 p.m., where students can walk in with samples of their writing and receive feedback from the Pulitzer winner.
The Writer-in-Residence Program is operated through the college’s Core Curriculum Department and funded by the Tom Schoenberger Lecture on Writing Fund for a minimum of five years. Dowding says that while Archibald’s writing is journalistic, future writers-in-residence may come from film and television, advertising and public relations. DiChristina is confident Archibald’s visit—and the Writer-in-Residence Program more broadly—will contribute positively to COM’s mission to “build understanding through communication education, practice and discovery.”
“Clear, insightful and inspiring writing is a hallmark of building understanding,” she says. “John Archibald’s application told a compelling story about his journey to find his own voice in his writing, and his impressive, award-winning body of work shows just how impactful such a voice can be on issues of justice.”