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Writer who helped exonerate wrongfully accused visits campus

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Pamela Colloff, an award-winning local investigative journalist, visited Beth Eakman’s Magazine Writing class on Feb. 12 to speak about her career and offer aspiring writers some advice. 

“Write as much as possible, as often as possible,” Colloff said. “And don’t be snobby.”  

Colloff started her career the same way many recent graduates do. She dreamed big and took advantage of the small opportunities that fell her way. At the beginning, she was told no more often than yes, but after getting published once, her career took off.

Now, Colloff is an executive editor at Texas Monthly Magazine and is known across the country for her narrative journalism investigating criminal cases. 

“Most people think of writing as a sort of by-product of education or communication, but Colloff’s work proves that writing is an action and that good writing can make real positive change in the world,” Eakman said.

As a four-time National Magazine Award finalist, Colloff is most known for her writing about three Texas court cases in which it was suspected that convicted criminals were wrongly accused. Her investigative journalism on two of the cases involving Michael Morton and Anthony Graves helped to exonerate them from false convictions and jail time. Some have even begun to categorize this type of investigate journalism as the “Colloff style” of long-form magazine writing.

The magazine writing students Colloff visited recently read her piece, “Hannah and Andrew,” which narrates the mysterious death of four-year old Andrew Burd in Corpus Christi, Texas and the court case that followed. 

Andrew’s foster mother, Hannah Overton, was charged with capital murder and sentenced to life in prison after Andrew died from salt poisoning.

When Colloff takes on a complex crime story, there is a lot of information to sort through and understand. Colloff’s task is to present the important facts through an engaging narrative.  

“Showing the complexity of someone makes them more real,” Colloff said.

While students in the magazine writing class that Colloff visited were excited to meet her in person, many were surprised by her journey to success.

Colloff attended Brown University, which did not offer a journalism major or even a journalism class. Instead, Colloff engaged in an independent study, which allowed her to study and practice magazine writing. After graduating, Colloff moved to Austin and wrote for a local trade magazine, Texas Highway Patrol, before being offered the opportunity to write two feature pieces for Details and Might magazines.

After moving to Austin, Colloff aspired to write for Texas Monthly, but it was not until after her feature pieces were published that the publication showed any interest.

Colloff encouraged the writers to continue pitching stories and contacting magazines even if they did not get a response. Colloff said she contacted Texas Monthly 17 times before she ever received an email back.

When asked if she wanted to continue writing this the type of investigative journalism, Colloff said that she may eventually like to try something new and wants to write about other aspects crime as well.

 “I think that she was really inspiring because a lot of people in the class are about to graduate,” senior Melissa Mendoza said. “She gave a lot of good advice, particularly advice about pitching stories to magazines and to keep doing it as much as you can. The power that her writing and research skills have had are really inspiring.”

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The Student News Site of St. Edward's University
Writer who helped exonerate wrongfully accused visits campus