MFA Alumnus Kevin Davis Publishes ‘The Brain Defense’
Longtime freelance journalist and Northwestern Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (MFA) alumnus, Kevin Davis, has touched nearly every aspect of Chicago’s rich writing community. Besides reporting on science and crime for local publications such as the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Magazine, as well as participating in readings around the city, Davis has taught writing at Loyola University Chicago and the University of Chicago Graham School. Recently, he’s combined his writing background and legal expertise as an assistant managing editor for the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal.
It’s Davis’s passion for criminal and social justice issues that has informed his three books of nonfiction, of which his latest, The Brain Defense, was published by an imprint of Penguin Random House and received praise from renowned authors such as Michael Connelly and Antonio Damasio.
The Brain Defense, an exploration of the Herbert Weinstein murder case and the larger implications of how brain injuries can influence criminal behavior, also received a rave review from the Wall Street Journal. The publication claimed “Davis is doing much more than giving Herbert Weinstein back his name and telling his complex story with compassion: He is reporting on a revolution taking place at the awkward intersection of brain science, technology and the law.”
Davis estimates it took more than four years to draft The Brain Defense from idea to finished manuscript, which began with the arduous process of compiling research to create a 75-page book proposal. The initial inklings of the idea lined up with Davis’s time in the Northwestern MFA program. Already an accomplished author, Davis enrolled in hopes of expanding his journalistic sensibilities to encompass more storytelling elements of creative nonfiction.
“The Brain Defense sort of sprung from some work I did in the MFA program. I was interested in writing stories about how people recover from brain injuries. I just came about it by accident since it combined my interests,” Davis said. “The more I explored it, the more I realized there was this whole phenomenon going on and it grew into a book.”
During his time at Northwestern, Davis had the opportunity to take a class in Medill School of Journalism and also an elective course on writing works of history. In his creative nonfiction workshops, Davis found he enjoyed working with writers from different backgrounds at various points in their careers. The mix of younger students and older peers offered a distinct balance.
“One of the strengths of Northwestern is being around smart people who can challenge you and support you at the same time,” Davis said. “Writing workshops are intensive, but also really helpful when people are unafraid to offer constructive feedback.”
After graduating, Davis committed to hundreds of hours of research for his new project. He combed through slews of medical journals, legal journals, and court transcripts, then traveled around the country interviewing lawyers and neuroscience experts, as well as the family members and loved ones of those with brain injuries who have been charged with crimes.
Davis explained, “The journey was filled with roadblocks and barriers, as well as great findings and treasures, all of which make nonfiction writing fun and frustrating at the same time.”
Along with recent MFA graduates Eric Grawe and Amy Hanson, as well as faculty members Goldie Goldbloom and Simone Muench, Davis will be part of the Northwestern Graduate & Faculty Spring Reading at Women & Children First Bookstore on April 30, 2017 from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.
The Brain Defense, published by Penguin Press on February 28, 2017, is available at bookstores nationwide.