Writing in Academia and Beyond

                                                            By Dick Simpson


I am lucky.  My profession requires me to write and rewards me for doing so.  Not all authors are so fortunate.

I got hired because I was able to write my Ph.D. dissertation and promoted only because I both published and taught.

Still I was a maverick.  Most of my colleagues write professional journal articles in a jargon for a limited audience.  I write to be read by the “general reader” as well as the professional.  I try to write accessibly.

Often I have multiple writing projects at the same time because it can take years to complete a book and there are down times when it is out to reviewers or waiting on coauthors.  I write both alone and with other authors and editors.

I don’t write religiously every day but I do many times a week, usually in the morning.  I write book chapters, books, op-eds, and blogs.  Once in a while, I will do a magazine article.  I also write reports I think important to citizens on topics like Chicago city council voting or public corruption.

My most recent book is a memoir, The Good Fight:  Life Lessons from a Chicago Progressive.  I never thought I would write a memoir and I had to develop an entirely different style of writing to do so.  It was very rewarding to review vignettes of my life and what I learned from those experiences.

I am also lucky that I am at a stage in my university career where I can write what I please as long as I can find a way to get it published.  I am currently commissioned to write a book chapter on elections and I am writing my presumably final book, Democracy’s Rebirth.

The rewards of writing are less clear cut.  I think most of us write because we feel strongly compelled to do so.  It is not good to write for profit although everyone gets some royalties along the way and the tax code lets you deduct many of the expenses.  But it is not a way to get rich for 99% of us authors.

My books are modestly successful and reach a fairly large audience but always many fewer than I hope to reach.  At my advanced age, I am still waiting to be discovered.

My writing is didactic although not too pedantic.  I use it as a way to further my teaching which is my profession and my calling.  My books entitled Winning Elections have been continuously in print with four publishers since 1972 and have had the practical effect of helping candidates and their supporters to win elections.

The university, sometimes reluctantly, has given me promotions and raises for publishing.  This has provided more money than any royalties I have received.  But mostly I have just been a “public intellectual” promoting causes I care about and arguing for a more participatory democracy and good government.  That has been reward enough.

–Dick Simpson has taught for more than 50 years at the University of Chicago, served as a Chicago Alderman, authored or co-authored more than 20 books and produced 7 documentary films and videos.