As a writer who crafts character-driven narratives that explore history, science and culture, I enjoy collaborating with other creative partners in storytelling. The mediums range from books, articles, and short fiction to talks and film. I typically work with agencies, nonprofits, filmmakers and science partners to find the story of a few people, and then we delve in for the deepest impact. The methods usually combine oral history, original research and reporting.
My writing about people, food, health and science has appeared in Smithsonian, The Washington Post, Washingtonian, Mother Jones, The Christian Science Monitor, Science, Undark, and Oxford American.
- Science and Health
- Innovation and Creativity
How I Use Storytelling
I use storytelling to reveal connections between people and their worlds. My latest non-fiction book, Cork Wars, weaves a true story with three real-life characters, gathered from in-depth interviews with family members, personal collections, and declassified government records. Another example is this 2017 book on biosciences pioneer ATCC; our work together garnered a gold Stevie Award for Best Business Book. A longtime practitioner, I’ve shared storytelling techniques and strategies as a writing instructor and TEDx speaker on Creative Storytelling with teams.
Cork Wars: Intrigue and Industry in World War II, features spies, international intrigue, and a patriotic national WW2 tree-planting campaign with 4-H kids, gardeners, and politicians. And you can order it in hardcopy, e-book or audio! We discussed part of the story on the BackStory podcast. Check out book signings and events»
Writing Instruction & Speaking
- Johns Hopkins University instructor in the Science Writing certificate program for Advanced Academic Programs (AAP). Learn more about course offerings.
- The Writer’s Center workshop leader in Bethesda, MD. Participants explore how people with a scientific background can begin writing for broad audiences and how non-scientists can weave scientific thought into their writing. View the upcoming workshop schedule»
- Documentary film workshop leader. Testimonial from a workshop participant: “Your class helped so much … Because of your class, I was awarded a fellowship to travel to Japan and will be making a small documentary …”
- Participating author with the PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools program. Check out the program and its teaching materials for Soul of a People and Success: Stories, and request a visit on the program’s website.
- Book group discussions in support of my books.
- 2019 Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY), World History (silver) — Cork Wars: Intrigue and Industry in World War II
- 2016 and 2018 writing fellowships with the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts
- 2011 International Reporting Project fellowship for reporting on global health in West Africa
- 2010 Writer’s Guild of America award nominee for best documentary — Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story documentary film
- Amazon Best of the Month pick — Soul of a People book
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Best Books of 2009 — Soul of a People book
- 2008 Washington Writers’ Publishing House fiction prize — Success: Stories
- 12th Annual Library of Virginia Literary Awards finalist — Success: Stories
- 2010 CINE Golden Eagle award — Worlds of Sound: The Ballad of Folkways, the story of the little pirate record label with the global reach, premiered on the Smithsonian ChannelHD
- WGA Screenplay Reading Series Award winner — My People, a feature film screenplay co-written with Jim McGrath; also received a staged reading in New York
- New England Screenwriting Competition honoree — Strikers, a one-act film script
- Woods Hole Film Festival Screenplay Contest honoree — Strikers, a one-act film script
Examples of Collaborative Projects
With the International Reporting Project, I gained a view inside Mali’s music scene (Washington Post) and spoke with Amadou and Mariam for Afropop Worldwide. Related stories follow a country doctor at his clinic, show how Malian musicians have engaged in defeating malaria, and how simulation experts in Africa and beyond compete to track malaria’s shape-shifting ways.
Soul of a People: The WPA Writers’ Project Uncovers Depression America (Wiley) explores America in the 1930s through writers who found their voices in that crisis. The book provided the basis for an award-winning documentary Smithsonian film, Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story. An article in Poets & Writers explores the story’s meaning today. Listen to an NPR interview with Jacki Lyden on All Things Considered.
For The War of 1812 and the Rise of the U.S. Navy (National Geographic), co-author Mark Collins Jenkins and I combed personal collections and manuscripts in the Library of Congress for vivid and forgotten firsthand accounts, including powder monkey Samuel Leech, who lived to see both sides of the war at sea.