Putting two elbows onto the table, leaning on the front legs of his chair, DeCurtis begins his “interview talk” about important “stuff,” like how not to ruin “the thing” — but he doesn't mean to sound “glib.”
He tells the students to feel comfortable.
“I want these interviews done in person,” he says, “You have to think about this as an interaction with a person. This is still a person. This is still a Thursday afternoon and that person is still in whatever mood they're in.”
He takes questions.
“What if we end up with a jerk,” asks one student, “Do we let that jerk-ness come through in the piece?”
“Absolutely,” DeCurtis says, “That's the writers' revenge.” The class laughs.
He advises students to spend as much time with their subjects as possible, to observe the interviewees in their natural habitats, to take notes, but also to be sure to record the interview. Not afraid to reveal his own mistakes, DeCurtis draws from personal experience to illustrate what can happen when you have to rely on notes and memory alone.
“I wrote a story about Morgan Freeman,” he begins, “It was a while back, an early profile...” Students gasp and poise their pens for note taking.
In addition to offering students a unique experience in the classroom, DeCurtis works to help shape students' lives after they graduate.
“When I was in school, I loved music, film, and literature, but I remember thinking, ‘What am I going to do with all this?' This class has reflected the changes in my career.”
For the second half of each class, DeCurtis brings a professional to share their career experience and to answer questions from the students. Besides journalists as traditionally defined, guests have included staff from Buzzfeed, Teen Vogue, and recently, the director of 20 Feet from Stardom, which was nominated for an Oscar.
“I want to give a real world point of view with the guests who are doing writing related things. If you like writing, you might like working in television. You don't have to get out of here and lock yourself in an attic and write a novel,” says DeCurtis.
Over the years, DeCurtis has even been able to bring back former UPenn students, who are now establishing careers.
Students return from a 15-minute break with cups from Starbucks and mugs of tea from the Kelly Writers House kitchen. At the head of the table is someone who looks like she could be one of the students.
“I was a Creative Writing major,” she says, “I had most of my classes in this room.”
Melody Kramer, graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (C'06), describes her career trajectory as fluid, telling students not to worry if they don't have a set plan to follow. She works as a Social Media Strategist for NPR. NPR is on Facebook. NPR is on Snapchat.
“Just the other day, I helped a 64-year-old reporter to make a Twitter,” she says, “ because he wants to live tweet the Oscars.”
Laughing with the rest of the class, DeCurtis calls out, “Well class, there you have it!”