David Masciotra ’07

Alumnus David Masciotra obtained his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from USF in 2007, then went on to obtain a master’s degree in English Studies and Communication from Valparaiso University in Indiana in 2010. He’s now an accomplished author, lecturer, public speaker and cultural critic who has interviewed Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen and more!

Q. Tell us about your USF experience… good memories, favorite instructors, life-changing moments.

A. The Catholic, liberal arts orientation of education is one of the finest available. It seeks to address the whole human person. As a non-Catholic, even I felt that I grew and gained from USF’s theological engagement with issues and inquiries of justice and ethics. My studies were also immensely beneficial due to the dedication and excellence of the faculty. Professor Julie Victa was my regular instructor and advisor. I still draw on her insights whenever I write about politics, which is often. Several courses with recently retired English professor Marvin Katilius-Boydstun embedded themselves into my conception of how a class should progress and play out during a semester. There were many other instructors whose commitment to pedagogical achievement I aspire to emulate today, but I would be remiss if I failed to mention the late Salim Diab. He taught at the University of St. Francis for 30 years, demonstrating the beauty and nobility of the life of the mind, and the excitement of entering the world of ideas. We started a club together, the Council for Social Activism, and became friends. The love and empathy with which he conducted himself acts as an exhibition, even after his death, of the expansive reach of one life. We are all capable of making a memorable and magnanimous impact on our family, friends, readers, and students.

Q. Guide us through your journey to becoming a writer, author and teacher.

A. I’ve always believed in having a calling rather than a career. My passion for writing began as a little boy, and it was in my dorm room at the University of St. Francis, while reading the masterful essays of the late American genius and giant, Gore Vidal, that I decided, for better or worse, I would spend my life in pursuit of literary accomplishment and excellence. I did not believe that I could reach the heights of Vidal’s greatness, but I knew that I could devote a significant part of my life to trying. It seemed like a grand and noble idea at the time, and it still does right now. Teaching appealed to me not only as the means to acquire supplemental income, but also as a method to inculcate the same enthusiasm for learning I had in other young people. I continued my studies at Valparaiso University, and was flattered to receive an invitation in 2010 to begin teaching in USF’s English Department from former chair, Randy Chilton, who is a great teacher and fine poet. The current chair, Kathryn Duys, was my instructor when I was a student, and is now my supervisor. I was privileged to sit in her classroom, and am equally privileged to work with her now. I’ve taught a variety of literature and writing courses, along with two courses in the political science department. Recently, I’ve enjoyed teaching the courses “Know Thyself,” a philosophical examination of literature of self-discovery, and African American Literature.

Writing is a tough vocation, and it requires tenacity. My first writing position after leaving USF was with the Joliet Herald News. Since then I have written for a wide variety of publications, from the Washington Post to the Daily Beast. I’ve also written speeches with Rev. Jesse Jackson, and interviewed brilliant American artists, ranging from Rita Dove to John Mellencamp. Writing, as a career, has its challenges, but I could not imagine doing anything else, and I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had for anything.

Q. Tell us about your published works. How did you choose your subjects?

A. I am the author of the following books: “Working on a Dream: The Progressive Political Vision of Bruce Springsteen” (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010), “Mellencamp: American Troubadour” (University Press of Kentucky, 2015), “Metallica by Metallica” (Bloomsbury Publishers, 2015) and “Barack Obama: Invisible Man” (Eyewear Publishing, 2017). Currently, I am a cultural columnist with Salon, and a music critic with No Depression. As far as how I chose my subjects, I feel it is the other way around. The subjects chose me. Norman Mailer said that “every book is an obsession.” In my experience, that is true.

Q. Any influences for your writing? Whose work do you enjoy reading? Who inspires you?

A. When I met one of my favorite writers Christopher Hitchens – a man whose work influences me to this day – one of the pieces of advice he gave me was to always read writers who leave you in a state of awe. The awe-inspiring writers to whom I most often return are Walt Whitman, Gore Vidal, Ernest Hemingway, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Maya Angelou, James Lee Burke, Alanna Nash and Jim Harrison. Ralph Ellison’s novel, “Invisible Man,” was directly informative and inspirational to my own interpretation of the Obama presidency, “Barack Obama: Invisible Man.” There are always extraordinary new writers to discover, however. Recently, I have found great energy and inspiration from the work of Karl Knausgaard and Angela Morales. I also often draw on music as a source of inspiration, and not just the musicians who I have made the subjects of biographies, but often local musicians who I have had the joy of befriending – John Condron, Kev Wright, Brent James and others. Any writer must also find inspiration in what the brilliant poet, Rita Dove, calls “the unremarked upon”– that is, the moments of life that leave us in ecstasy of agony. So, all art inspires me, most especially literature and music, but so does the art of living: falling in love, losing loved ones, making friends, enduring heartbreak.

Q. Any advice for our current students—English students and otherwise?

A. Jim Harrison gave the best advice I’ve heard or read: “You must follow the affection of your heart and trust the truth of your imagination. Otherwise, you will feel badly.” Find a calling instead of a career. Pursue your passion more than profit. If you fall in love, act on it immediately – get married and have children, if that is your desire. Then, tell people, “I’m just concentrating on my love life right now. I’ll worry about my career later.” If you are intelligent and diligent, you will have a successful career. So, don’t make it your focus. Make the rest of your life – that which is responsible for our joy and our human triumph – your focus.

Q. What are your hobbies and interests outside of writing?

A. I enjoy consumption of all the arts, but nothing means much without love, friendship, and community. My greatest blessing is my wife, Sarah. We have many fulfilling friendships, and we are fortunate to have enduring and enlivening bonds with my parents, Sarah’s father, and Sarah’s siblings. The Chicago St. Pub in Joliet has become a sacred institution of happiness and camaraderie for us, and many of our best friends often congregate within its walls for fellowship, food, and music. We also experience immeasurable joy with our cats, Whitney and Hemingway.