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Posted on Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 2:05 p.m.

Captions in the Classroom: U-M lecturer tells why he's obsessed with The New Yorker's contest

By Paula Gardner

A University of Michigan writing instructor is featured in The New Yorker this week after writing a guest column on how he uses the caption contest in his writing classes at U-M.


Cody Walker, U-M writing instructor and guest essayist for The New Yorker.

From: The University of Michigan

Cody Walker won The New Yorker's caption contest one week early in 2010, when he also wrote an essay about how winning was "the thing I most want."

Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor and writer of the magazine's Cartoon Bureau column, recently checked back with Walker.

"I thought Cody might have more to say about the intersection of good caption writing and writing in general, so I’ve asked him to say more," wrote Mankoff.

Here's a portion of what Walker had to say:

As I’ve now preached to countless students (first in Seattle and, more recently, in Ann Arbor), working on captions will make you a better writer.

Inexperienced writers sometimes imagine that good writing comes from good ideas. But that’s not right: good writing comes from good sentences.

Readers of The New Yorker are responding to the column: On Friday, it was the 2nd most-read story on the magazine's website and the 3rd most-emailed.

Read Walker's ''Captions in the Classroom" essay.



Sun, Jun 9, 2013 : 5:52 p.m.

Whole Dude - Whole Obsession: Congratulations to Professor Cody Walker. When I read the caption of this story, the caption would not have attracted my attention if the word "obsessed" is not added to the caption. The term obsession refers to the fact or state of being obsessed with an idea, desire, emotion, etc., It is a persistent idea, desire, or emotion that a person cannot easily get rid of, particularly even after the application of reasoning. Sometimes the obsessive nature is manifested as a problem known as Obsessive-Compulsive Neurosis. Good writing demands writing good sentences and it includes writing a good caption using good ideas.

Sandra Samons

Sun, Jun 9, 2013 : 3:44 p.m.

Of course! The caption is the hook that invites me to read further.

Wystan Stevens

Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 7:35 p.m.

Isn't that a nice essay? Delightful writing. I too read nearly every word of the New Yorker, which comes to me online. My dad's subscription to the magazine began in the 1950s, but Dad didn't make it through every article every week, so back issues became bathroom reading: the old man even installed a magazine rack on the wall, beside the "commode." Incidentally, when Mary and Don Hunt started the Ann Arbor Observer (in 1976) they modeled its light style on The New Yorker.

Chip Reed

Sun, Jun 9, 2013 : 11:10 a.m.

Yes indeed, Audie. I learned to read through the medium of the New Yorker cartoons. They were read to us children every week by my mother.

Paula Gardner

Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 7:01 p.m.

Thanks, Wystan. I had a writer's moment of panic here, knowing that something was wrong because I was writing about writing. Sigh. Here's a bit about Mankoff: Also, I took a moment after posting this (a moment when I clearly should have been proofreading) to share the link of Walker's essay around the newsroom.

Wystan Stevens

Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 6:52 p.m.

Paula, the Cartoon Editor's name is Mankoff, not Mankuff.