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3 tips on writing about grief from NPR’s TV critic

Eric Deggans is a TV critic for NPR

This weekend, the world mourned the death of actor Chadwick Boseman. On Sunday evening, 6.1 million viewers honored Boseman by tuning in to watch his leading performance as King T’Challa in “Black Panther” on ABC in an act of collective grief. 

NPR’s TV critic Eric Deggans eulogized Boseman on Twitter: “After talking about Chadwick Boseman’s passing on MSNBC this morning, I remembered a column I wrote after watching the Black Panther movie about what that film meant for blerds — black nerds — everywhere. #RIP to an acting star whose work uplifted us all.”

Deggans lost his mother earlier this year and has written about how TV shows can help explore grief. The Institute reached out to him for advice on writing about grief during challenging times. Deggans said:

First, don’t get too maudlin or overly poetic. The occasion is already weighty enough. Let the power of the moment guide your writing choices, but don’t pile on the adjectives or praise to the point where it looks like you are forcing the situation.

Second, be as honest and forthcoming as you can. If there are negatives about the situation or the person you are writing about, don’t avoid them or work too hard to minimize them. Just make sure you put them in perspective and keep in mind that most readers don’t necessarily want to see you take apart even the worst people in an obituary or post mortem. They just want a story that puts everything in the proper context.

Finally, don’t be afraid to talk to people close to the situation to make sure your writing is accurate. It is an odd fact about people that folks who go through traumatic situations sometimes find talking about it helpful. You must be careful in seeking out and conducting these conversations, because not everyone feels this way. But it is not a given that someone close to a tragedy does not want to talk. Often, people find some comfort in remembering good things about someone who has passed away. And they are often highly aware of how a media story may spread positive news about someone’s accomplishments or legacy.”

The Institute hosted a program with NPR’s Keith Woods and The Dallas Morning News’ Tom Huang on writing through grief. Watch here

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