Have you ever had the opportunity to talk to someone you really admired? It’s an exhilarating experience! I was recently able to enjoy such an occasion when I interviewed Irene Van Winkle, an award-winning Texas journalist.
During our conversation, Irene told me how she got her start in journalism, a path that led to multiple awards. Her story was inspiring and is sure to motivate any creative to pursue their dreams.
Irene Van Winkle’s Love of History Starts with Her Very Own
Most of us know Irene as a proud Texas journalist, but her story actually starts in Europe. Her family is originally from Ukraine, where her grandfather was a pastor for over 40 years. During her 2016 trip of a lifetime to Ukraine, Irene was able to see a beautiful church that her grandfather helped build.
Because of religious persecution, though, the family had to escape Ukraine. They ended up in Austria where Irene was born after World War II.
By the time she was three-and-a-half years old, her family had moved to New York.
Her family’s history is a rich one, and knowing the intricacies of her history has led to investigating the history of other families – particularly those within Kerr County, TX.
Since 2006, she has been writing regular interesting historical accounts of the people, places, and events of Kerr County. To date, she’s written 454 stories.
Where does she draw her inspiration? Usually, it’s from everyday people, like those she meets at The Hunt Store.
The Hunt Store started out as a general store in the 1940s, and since that time has been the heart of the town.
The Hunt Store is now a place for people to enjoy great concerts, exceptional food, and the latest gossip.
One of the best parts of this gathering hole is what Irene calls “the old wise men of the fireplace.” A group of friends huddle around the fireplace and talk about the latest news in town. As a journalist, Irene says that this group serves as a great source for stories because they know about everyone and everything in Hunt.
Irene has been writing histories for over a decade. For the first five years or so, Irene was writing one historical account a week.
Since then, she’s written one every couple of weeks, which gave her the opportunity to take a break from the deep research she’d done for each historical piece. It also gave her the opportunity to write other news stories.
What is her process?
Irene’s In-Depth Historical Research and Creative Process
There were three points that Irene repeatedly mentioned during our conversation that I found extremely important.
1. Do Thorough Research
You have to be careful when doing historical research. As time goes by, stories change, often becoming more extravagant. Or, people and events are forgotten or misrepresented.
When doing research, Irene looks for the oldest living relative to provide her with facts. She also makes sure that each claim is backed by three sources.
2. Don’t Dumb Down Your Writing
Irene says an important part of being a journalist is writing in a way that the reader can understand without “talking” down to them. She writes her pieces in a way that gets her audience to think and analyze the facts. Remember – people are often smarter than they’re given credit for.
3. Write What and How You Want To
Just because another person wrote something about a topic/person/news story doesn’t mean that she has to try and play catch up and write about it. And neither do you!
Irene says: “I want to be my own independent thinker and find my own interesting stories that someone has never heard of or has missed.”
Check Out the West Kerr Current for Samples of Irene’s Work
Are you interested in becoming a journalist and possibly winning awards for your work down the road?
One of the best ways to become an award-winning level writer or artist is to study those who have come before you.
This is one of the things Irene does. We talked briefly about her inspirations. She mentioned Mark Twain, who she called a prolific, fascinating, and skilled literary giant.
Another source of inspiration is Dr. Kathleen Hudson, a local university professor, and writer who has written extensively about music and the power of women. She has also had the distinction of winning a Peabody Award.
Dr. Hudson’s love of music is so strong that she’s interviewed nearly everyone in music. She also started the Kerrville Heritage Music Festival, which has been going strong for over 30 years.
Like these wonderful, inspiring writers, I believe Irene can inspire new writers who want to achieve great things. To follow her work, make sure to read her stories in the West Kerr Current.