Nick Chiles authors new memoir about Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

It seems fitting that Nick Chiles (MFA ’22), a Distinguished Writer in Residence, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and teacher of feature writing courses, spends a lot of time outside of the classroom writing.

Chiles has spent more time writing in recent years than teaching as evident by the fact that his 21st book was just published, 13 of them co-authored with celebrities. Like many of his other books his latest, “In the Blink of an Eye: An Autobiography of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf,” is an intimate perspective into a person’s life, and this book about Abdul-Rauf hit a special chord with Chiles.

“At this point in my career, I turn a lot of stuff down,” Chiles explains. “I am teaching full time and there only so many hours in the day. But this project resonated with me and I felt it was an important story to tell.”

Cover of "In the Blink of An Eye: An Autobiography of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf"
“In the Blink of an Eye: An Autobiography of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf” is the 21st book written by Chiles.

Chiles was very familiar with Abdul-Rauf before he took the call to co-author the book. Chiles grew up a sports fan of New York teams like the Yankees and the New York Knicks, and followed NBA teams including those that Abdul-Rauf played for—the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings and Vancouver Grizzlies. In addition to his time as an All-American point guard, Abdul-Rauf is probably most known for his social justice stance taken in 1996 when he refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before his games because he felt the American flag was a symbol of tyranny.

“In the Blink of an Eye” is one of the first books published by Kaepernick Publishing, Colin Kaepernick’s new venture, and it draws parallels with his own experience confronting controversy over his refusal to stand during the national anthem before football games.

Chiles personally related to Abdul-Rauf the same way he related to Kaepernick.

Chiles explains: “The hypocrisy of it all…that you are not allowed to take a religious stance or political stance about this national anthem in a country where citizens are so zealously clutching their chest and saying you have to honor them when you salute the flag…they were fighting for our right to be able to have freedom of speech.”

Chiles has worked as a reporter for The Dallas Morning News, the Star-Ledger of Newark and New York Newsday, where he was on a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for a package of stories about a fatal subway crash. Through the years, Chiles has co-authored books with Jamie Foxx and Bobby Brown among others, and he spends several months shadowing and interviewing his subjects in person and over Zoom.

“I try to spend time around them to get a sense of their voice and their world view,” said Chiles of the process. “I call it ‘literary ventriloquism.’ My goal is that if you were to ask me a question about what one of my subjects thinks about global warming for example or the male/female pay gap, I would be able to answer in their voice because I knew them well enough.”

He said many of the people he co-authors books with are taken aback by how many questions are asked and how detailed he gets.

“I’m asking a million questions during the interviews. It’s usually pretty emotional for people because we are probing many topics. It’s pretty much like therapy.”

The parallel to therapy is one that Chiles appreciates since he majored in psychology as an undergraduate at Yale University. He was recruited to play baseball and was bitten by the writing bug when he wandered into the campus newspaper office. From there, he rose to the job of sports editor.

Since then, Chiles has earned an MFA in Narrative Nonfiction at UGA with the goal of teaching.

“I didn’t know what to expect of the program, but it had tremendous impact on me,” Chiles admits. “I did a lot of reading in the program, which was extremely helpful and beneficial. It really forced me to study how other people do what I do and I learned a lot.”

Although he has aspirations of working with other celebrities—Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z and Denzel Washington are on his wish list—he hopes people will be inspired by the valor and courage he writes about Abdul-Rauf in the book.

Chiles concludes: “This man had this belief and he could have just as easily bent to the NBA’s will and started standing for the national anthem, but he thought that was dishonoring who he was and he stuck to his principles.  I think there is something to be said for that. Convictions and strength of character are noteworthy and you have to stop and pause and learn those lessons.”

To learn more about “In the Blink of an Eye: An Autobiography of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf,” please visit local independent book retailer Avid Bookshop, or Amazon.

Nick Chiles talks with students in his writing class.
Chiles teaches feature writing courses at Grady College.

Moni Basu named director of MFA Narrative Nonfiction program

A quote graphic that reads "“This felt like a poetic opportunity for me. It is an honor for me to lead this amazing program and to ensure that Valerie’s legacy shines bright.”Moni Basu, an award-winning journalist and author, has been named the director of the Master in Fine Arts in Narrative Nonfiction program and the Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer in Residence at Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She will begin her new role in January 2023.

Basu has been a distinguished professor of practice at Grady College since 2015, serving as a visiting writer and mentor in the nonfiction MFA program launched by the late Valerie Boyd, who passed away in February 2022. 

“This felt like a poetic opportunity for me,” Basu said. “It is an honor for me to lead this amazing program and to ensure that Valerie’s legacy shines bright.”

Basu is leaving her role as the Michael and Linda Connelly Lecturer in Narrative Nonfiction at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, a job she began in August 2018. She was named UF’s teacher of the year in her fourth semester there.

Before that, Basu was a senior writer at CNN and a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she won numerous national awards. Basu is the author of the book “Chaplain Turner’s War,” which stemmed from a series of stories she wrote on Darren Turner, an Army chaplain who shepherded a battalion of infantrymen during a grueling deployment in Iraq. 

“We’re thrilled to have Moni join us full time,” said Jonathan Peters, head of the Department of Journalism at Grady College. “She’s a wonderful person and an award-winning teacher and writer, with bylines all over the world and deep experience covering issues related to trauma, race and identity. “Our students will be so fortunate to learn from her, and all of us in the Department of Journalism are excited for her to make her mark on the Narrative Media Writing program.”

Basu speaks during a panel at Grady College in 2018.
Basu speaks during a panel at Grady College in 2018. (Photo: Sarah Freeman)

Basu, who has also served as an editor-at-large for The Bitter Southerner and The Groundtruth Project, has a background in local journalism. Early in her career, Basu worked as editor of The Florida Flambeau and briefly at The Tallahassee Democrat, before accepting a position at AJC. 

“Moni brings continuity to the program. With her extensive experience in domestic and international reporting she also brings a new dimension to the mix,” said Jeff Springston, director of the MFA Narrative Media Writing program at Grady College. “As we seek to broaden our student base to become more international, she is the perfect person to lead that effort.”

The MFA Narrative Nonfiction program is a two-year, low-residency program designed to cultivate writers in storytelling. The program offers students an opportunity to develop skills that prepares them to be accomplished authors, editors, literary agents or other industry professionals. Students have published books and articles in national magazines. The MFA Narrative Nonfiction program is one of two tracks of study in the MFA Narrative Media Writing program. The other, in screenwriting, is directed by Nate Kohn. 

A number of leading editors, writers and instructors serve as MFA Narrative Nonfiction mentors including: Rosalind Bentley, interim director of the MFA Narrative Nonfiction program and Pulitzer prize finalist; John T. Edge, author of “The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South;” Lolis Eric Elie, filmmaker, television writer for series such as HBO’s “Treme;” Melissa Faye Greene, author of several books including the award-winning “Praying for Sheetrock;” Pat Thomas, professor emerita and former Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism at UGA; and Jan Winburn, editor of the Pulitzer Prize winning story, “The Umpire’s Son,” reported by Lisa Pollak.

Applications to the MFA Narrative Nonfiction program are due each year by May 1. Learn more on the program website.

Taylor Potter (AB ’21) wins Vincent Wasilewski Award from Broadcast Education Association

Learning how to write in a variety of styles has long been a priority for Taylor Potter (AB ’21). She knows it is her path to her dream career.

Potter graduated this year with undergraduate degrees in Entertainment and Media Studies from Grady College and Film Studies from Franklin College. She also completed the interdisciplinary writing certificate and is in Grady College’s Narrative Media Writing MFA graduate program.

The countless hours of writing and editing is the preparation needed for Potter to accomplish the dream of becoming a showrunner for her own television show at NBC.

She is also using her writing skills to pursue scholarships that can help allay the costs of graduate school.

Potter recently won the Vincent Wasilewski Award, which is a $4,000 scholarship, from the Broadcast Education Association (BEA).

“Like every other student, I want to graduate without student loan debt, so I’ve been working really hard to earn the money to pay for grad school either through traditional means like my internship with Focus Features or through scholarships like this one,” Potter said. “Winning a scholarship of this stature makes a remarkable difference in my educational career and allows me to focus more on my work than on my bills.”

The Wasilewski Award required applicants to display superior academic performance and outstanding work in electronic media.

Potter learned of the award when submitting to BEA’s Festival of Media Arts Competition earlier in 2021. Potter and her writing partner Ana Gonzalez won first place in that competition for best television pilot script.

“I’m really proud of Taylor, and it’s cool to see her hard work validated,” said Matthew Evans, EMST assistant professor. “Screenwriting isn’t a sprint—it’s a marathon. And Taylor gets that. She just wants to get better and better. She tackles difficult subject matter, and writes about complex female characters, too—which we need more of. I’m excited to see what Taylor writes at our Low-Residency MFA, and I look forward to following her career in Hollywood.”

Potter credits active involvement in student filmmaking for building her portfolio and network to boost her standing for potential national accolades. She has three pieces of advice for any aspiring filmmakers at UGA looking to carve a similar path.

  • “Make something. It can be a script, a book, a short film. It doesn’t matter. Make it and put all you have into it. You’ll become a better writer/director/producer/etc. and you might even garner some recognition from it later.”
  • “Get to know your professors and vice versa. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked for a letter of recommendation from the same six professors. You don’t have to be buddy-buddy with all of them, but it’s in your best interest to befriend a few and always have them in your corner.”
  • “Lastly, APPLY! Apply to that film festival, that screenplay competition, that scholarship. You can’t get a yes if you tell yourself no.”

Learn more about Potter and her path to filmmaking and graduate school with these previous features from Grady College: #ProfilesOfTenacity (2020) & Grady Intern Diaries (2019).