As a reporter and producer for print, radio and television, Julianne Hill has garnered numerous awards for probing tough subjects, like mandatory medication to treat schizophrenia. But Hill wanted to dig deeper still, to learn new ways to tell her own stories. She found the tools she needed in Northwestern’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (MFA) program, where she specializes in creative nonfiction. “I’ve focused on essays and memoir,” says Hill, “but creative nonfiction is so much more than that. [Writer and MFA instructor] Alex Kotlowitz calls it literary journalism.”
Hill’s career got off to a heady start after college with an internship with the Associated Press in Rome. “It opened up an Ohio girl’s eyes to the world,” says Hill, who returned home to report for Crain’s Cleveland Business. She transferred to Crain’s Chicago publications when her husband, Doug Hill, wanted to study improvisational comedy at The Second City while working in marketing and advertising. Julianne Hill’s career thrived in Chicago, where she helped launch the international news edition of Advertising Age and then landed a dream job with television reporter and producer Bill Kurtis: “It was a huge gift. I didn’t know a thing about TV. Bill took me on and taught me how to write to pictures.” Hill shifted to radio several years ago after recording two (“One Brain Shrinks, Another Brain Grows” and “Heart Shaped Box”) poignant essays for Ira Glass’s This American Life. The essays recounted her young son’s struggle to comprehend his father’s slow decline from a degenerative brain disease.
Hill calls the MCW class she took with video essayist John Bresland on writing with images and sound “life-changing.” In that class Hill created an eight-minute video — an imagined interview with Mary Magdalene about widowhood — that has appeared in three film festivals. For a class with author Eula Biss, Hill wrote a story called “Ordinary Day” and performed it before a live audience in Chicago. Currently working on a multimedia thesis, Hill cites classes with Bill Savage, Marya Hornbacher, Michael McColly, and Sandi Wisenberg as opening new opportunities, including perhaps teaching full-time at the college level. Says Hill, “The program has helped me develop in ways I hadn’t expected.”