First-Person Narrative Goes "Beyond Rape"

The latest Narrative Digest from the Nieman Foundation of Journalism at Harvard University highlights one of the most remarkable narratives of any month. “Beyond Rape: A Survivor’s Journey” was published in a 16-page special section of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in May. In its 20,000 word first-person narrative, Joanna Connors does what her headline claims: going far beyond her experience in a darkened theater, 23 years ago, to confront the uncomfortable, human complexity of not only her own journey, but her rapist’s.

As Connors told the Narrative Digest in an interview:

“That I was a victim was random, of course, a matter of bad luck and bad timing. That he was a criminal and a rapist was not random; he was the product of a cycle of violence. The piece turned into a story of what parents pass on to our children, and about the immense privilege of birth that we on this side of the boundary take for granted.”

Or, as she writes in part 1, after a taut narrative of the moments leading up to her assault:

“[This story] is about rape. It is about race and class. And it is about our community -- our line-in-the-sand combativeness over these issues, and our stubborn and fearful reluctance to talk about them.

I needed to tell my story, and I think our community needs to see, and talk about, the huge barriers between the haves and the have-nots.”

The Narrative Digest’s interview with Connors provides more insight into the “how” and “why,” and a column in Editor and Publisher details the outpouring of readers' reactions.