Nineteen students represented Southeastern at the Southeast Journalism Conference on Feb. 16-18 in Oxford, Mississippi. Many students took home awards and Southeastern placed second overall at the conference. The students participated in a variety of competitions that tested their writing and broadcasting abilities against schools from across the Southeast region.
In addition to the competitions, the Southeast Journalism Conference offered many informative panels. One such panel highlighted writer Jesse Holland, who talked about his career as a reporter and author while offering professional advice to attendees.
With the eyes of eager panelists fixated upon him, Holland jokingly said, “If you want to be a popular writer, do not talk about race and ethnicity.”
However, it is in this exact subject area that Holland has found his niche, through the topic of race relations. This theme can be found throughout his writings, whether through his work at The Associated Press, his nonfiction novels or his most recent venture into comic books.
For Holland, writing was never the issue, rather what area he would explore. “I always knew I was going to be a writer; the question for me was what was I going to write about,” said Holland. Growing up on a farm in rural Mississippi, intriguing subject matter was few and far between. While in high school, Holland made the conscious decision to study journalism in college, as a way to escape his small town and humdrum life.
“I got into journalism to meet interesting people and find interesting things to write about,” said Holland. Soon Holland enrolled at the University of Mississippi in 1989 and began his journalistic career.
Holland began working as writer and editor at the Daily Mississippian, the campus newspaper. Holland describes his time at the university as the most fun he has experienced as a journalist and stresses the abundance of opportunities he had there. From meeting A-list authors such as Stephen King, to covering the ongoing debate of whether the band should play “Dixie,” Holland says his college years greatly shaped his future professional career.
Today Holland lives in Washington D.C. working for the AP as a Race and Ethnicity writer. Over the last few years, Holland has covered such prominent issues as the unrest in Ferguson and the shootings of unarmed black men at the hands of the police, such as Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Holland has also covered the clashes between the Black Lives Matter Movement and the nation’s police and media.
These recent problems regarding race in our country have a lot to do with our nation’s past, a shameful one many would rather cover-up than acknowledge. A nation built on the backs of minorities who still receive mistreatment and injustice till this day.
Holland explores America’s checkered past in his novel “Black Men Built the Capitol: Discovering African-American History In and Around Washington, D.C.” which debuted in 2007. While doing research for this novel, Holland explored many prominent national monuments throughout D.C., such as the National Mall and the White House and discovered the truth behind their construction.
“Not only did slaves build the White House and the Capitol, they lived inside the White House with the first president,” said Holland.
Holland couldn’t understand why this side of history was being overlooked and decided to bring these untold stories to the light. “In our society, if you don’t write these things down, it doesn’t exist. I decided to write these things down, and I was amazed to find out no one had done this,” said Holland, “A lot of people knew these things, but no one had written it down.”
Currently, Holland is working on a novel based on the four-part “Black Panther” comic book series. At its completion, the novel will span 85,000 words. The book will be set in the modern age and coincide with the current political climate.
“I can’t not talk about the recent changes in Washington,” said Holland, in regard to his novel. Holland also stressed the novel will reflect a piece of himself. “Unlike journalism, books are a part of the writer. The novel will reflect what I see,” said Holland.
Holland has been moving non-stop from project to project for the past six years and doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. He revealed he already has a plan for another non-fiction novel and will continue his tenure at the AP. Holland’s love for narrative hasn’t diminished, as he is always seeking out new stories.
“The question is always what that something will be,” said Holland, in regards to his future plans. “While the worlds may seem different, there’s always a way to connect the things you love.”