A unique course is being taught at the University of North Florida. It’s a class on ghostwriting; the act of writing as someone else.
Students enrolled in this ghostwriting course talk with their subject, Hy Kliman. He is in his 80's and has been a leader in the Jacksonville business community since the 1950's.
“I was President of Westside Kiwanis, I was on the Port Authority Board for four years, I started the Economic Development Council,” he said, listing some of his accomplishments.
Among other things, he opened the largest shopping center Jacksonville at the time called Town in Country, and built a bowling alley that still operates at Jax Beach.
The 20 students have class twice a week. They are assigned different roles such as: fact-checking, copywriting, and editing. Each gets to interview Kliman about certain parts of his life. In the end, they’ll produce a biography in his voice.
Student Ellie Strube says nailing down Kliman’s voice has been the main challenge.
“He’s an old time guy, and so you kind of think, alright old times he’s more 1926, slang and things like that are a lot different,” Strube said.
“He says ‘anyways’ at the start of every sentence, ‘mostly anyways.’ So he’s short, his sentences are very short. Finding his voice and figuring out how he speaks, and everyone has a voice and it’s a really personal and individualistic thing. It’s been hard.”
Student Alex Ender described what he’s noticed about the interview process.
“Usually when you’re a writer, you have to write about yourself or other people you know, but you don’t really know them,” Ender said.
“In this situation we have to really know him—we have to go to his house, we have to probe through his pictures, through his paintings, through everything he owns.”
“You get to know someone through their possessions just as much as speaking to them.”
Kliman is impressed with the way these students interact with him and tell his story.
“I see some bright kids come up; they are much brighter than kids than I was at that age. They know more about what’s right and what’s wrong and what to do,” he said.
That admiration goes both ways, according to student Carl Rosen.
“I didn’t have grandparents growing up, so it’s interesting to talk to someone a bit older and pick their brains to see what they’re going through, and see how it relates to what I’m going through,” Rosen said.
“It’s also fun to practice the skills that I’ve been learning all my college career and implement them on someone that has a lot going on.”
The professor who teaches the course, Mark Ari, says his purpose is not necessarily to create occupational ghostwriters, but to shape writing skills in a meaningful way.
“I think it awakens our natural empathy,” he said.
“They’re doing a wonderful thing for somebody, and you can see it in their faces when they talk about it. So it’s a job, yeah, and it’s a class, yeah, but it’s more than any of that.”
According to Ari, It’s about connecting with another human being.
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