“Evil Reporter Chick” Moni Basu Infiltrates Students’ Hearts and Minds to Become UF Teacher of the Year
This story was written by UF Advancement and originally appeared on their web site.
Moni Basu, Michael and Linda Connelly Lecturer for Narrative Nonfiction at the UF College of Journalism and Communications, began her career as a journalist in Tallahassee and has been reporting and editing for 37 years. She’s worked for CNN and major newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and has reported on presidential elections, the 9/11 attacks, hurricanes, earthquakes and war.
She covered the Iraq War since its inception in 2003 and on several trips was embedded with the U.S. Army. Her resulting e-book, Chaplain Turner’s War (2012, Agate Publishing), grew from a series of stories on an Army chaplain there. A platoon sergeant gave her the affectionate nickname “Evil Reporter Chick,” and it stuck. You can follow that moniker on Instagram.
She claims she’s no superhero but she was featured once as a war reporter in Marvel Comics’ “Civil War” series.
Prof B, as she is known by her students, began teaching advanced reporting and writing classes at UF in 2018 and quickly distinguished herself by being named Teacher of the Year. She’s also a freelance writer, and she teaches in an MFA program in narrative media at the University of Georgia.
Basu was born in Kolkata, India, and has been shaped by a life spent straddling two cultures.
She recently took time to answer 20 questions for Gator Nation News:
What was your first journalism job?
I worked at The Florida Flambeau, an independent newspaper serving the Florida State community. At the time, the Flambeau was a feisty paper that took seriously the old newspaper adage “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I have never taken a journalism class and learned how to be a reporter at the Flambeau. Some of the people I worked with there are still my closest friends.
What did you want to be when you were little?
I dreamed of becoming an Air India flight attendant. I loved the notion of being able to travel around the world on someone else’s dime and being put up in five-star hotels in cities like New York or Tokyo or Buenos Aires. I also admired the way the flight attendants carried themselves, swaying elegantly in their perfectly pressed printed silk saris.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Be patient. Or do you mean as a journalist? The answer is still the same. Be patient.
What’s your go-to snack food?
I don’t really buy packaged snacks too much, but once a year, I make a clandestine run to Popeye’s to get a two-piece, dark meat chicken dinner, extra spicy, with red beans and rice.
Your most binge-worthy series?
Best show, hands down: “The Wire” on HBO. No further comment needed.
The best book you’ve ever read?
I read a lot so this is a hard question for me. Can I list more than one? Joan Didion’s “The White Album.” Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” And I just finished Natasha Trethewey’s “Memorial Drive,” which has to be some of the most beautiful prose I have ever read.
A favorite saying or phrase?
“A word after a word after a word is power.” — Margaret Atwood
Where do you feel most at home?
I love to be at home in India. Wait. I love to be at home in Atlanta. I am an immigrant from India and feel I am never quite in my element here or back in Kolkata. I suppose my answer is I feel most comfortable at the intersection of two divergent cultures.
Are you a morning or night writer?
Neither. My best writing time is in the afternoons. I’m like a baseball pitcher who needs to do a long windup to throw a strike. I need to drink coffee, answer emails, catch up on the news, finish all the mundane tasks at hand in the morning before I can clear my mind and really write.
Do you have a lucky charm or ritual you rely on as you write?
No. But I do a lot of laundry, and my house is sparkling clean by the time I have finished my story.
iPhone or Android?
iPhone. I have never owned a PC or Android device and still have trouble navigating the computers in UF classrooms. Mac to the core.
Who, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
My mother’s mother. She died when I was only 2. I desperately want to know her, to ask her about my mother.
Who motivated you to do well in school?
My father. He was a brilliant man who took the time to sit down with me and make sure I understood my lessons. I am not mathematically inclined, but I always made good grades because of my father’s dedication. (Basu’s father, Debabrata, was a much-lauded professor of statistical theory. Her mother, Kalyani, earned a degree in economics but did not work outside the home.)
When you’re not teaching and writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I love to travel. I get on a plane every chance I get, off to a new destination, a new adventure. Sadly, the pandemic has robbed me of that. I cannot wait for a semblance of normalcy so that I can get away again. I started painting again during the COVID lockdown and surprised my friends – as well as myself! – by how much I enjoy it. Somehow, because I am a writer, I feel enormous pressure to produce beautiful prose. But no one is judging me on my brushstrokes. The bar is set low, and I find that liberating. I also enjoy gardening. I love to nurture my plants and watch them blossom. What else? Well, lately, a perfect day for me has been to walk six or seven miles with my furry son, Gizmo.
What are your bucket list destinations?
West Africa, Antarctica and the Trans-Siberian rail from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg.
Would you rather travel 1,000 years into the past or 1,000 years into the future?
Into the past. For sure. I think it’s important to never forget the past in order to make a better future. And to do that, you have to truly comprehend it.
In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge facing those entering the journalism profession today?
That we have been called “the enemy of the people” and so many Americans have lost trust in journalists. I truly believe we will overcome the vast and rapid changes in the industry and that journalism will exist in some form or another. But regaining trust is a huge issue.
If a movie was made about you, who would you want to play you?
Salma Hayek or Madhuri Dixit.
Has COVID-19 and its restrictions changed any of your ideas about your life?
Changed? No. Amplified? Yes. I have come to value the simplest pleasures of life that for many years I did not make time for, like those long walks with my 7-pound dog.
If you could give just one piece of advice to all UF students, what would it be?
Use your heart as much as your brain in all your endeavors.