Author, journalist discusses book, venture into writing field
|Courtesy of Liza Winkler
Robert Kolker, investigative journalist and New York Magazine contributor, traveled from the Big Apple to Texas State to discuss his career and new book with students Tuesday during Mass Comm Week.
Tom Grimes, professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Gilbert Martinez, senior lecturer, welcomed Kolker to the stage in the Centennial room 157 teaching theater in front of a crowd of students.
Martinez, a friend of Kolker, guided the discussion by asking questions about his non-fiction book published in July, “Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery.” In his debut novel, Kolker interlaced the narratives of five women working as Craigslist escorts from small towns who were mysteriously killed and identified by their remains found near and along Oak Beach in New York.
“Well I don’t think that there would’ve been an open serial killer case in New York right now if it wasn’t for the disappearance of one woman—Shannan Gilbert on a spring evening in 2010,” Kolker said. “On this particular evening she went somewhere she never went before, which was a little gated beachfront community off Long Island.”
Gilbert arrived at the escort call with her driver that fateful night about three years ago. Kolker discussed how Gilbert appeared visibly panicked as she ran out of her client’s house hours later and called 911 in fear of her life while knocking on neighbors’ doors pleading for help. Gilbert was never seen again after that night.
“I wanted this book to be not just a murder mystery and not just five women’s stories, but a story about class in America—a story not just about the divide between rich and poor but between the middle class and the working class,” Kolker said.
Kolker said his book offers a critique of the media’s sensationalism and coverage of serial killer cases as well as the community and local police officer’s stigmas about prostitution.
“I am g
ratified that most people who read the book see that you can be sensitive toward everyone involved and make it clear that no one’s a hero and no one’s a villain—except the killer, he’s the villain,” Kolker said.
Martinez asked Kolker about the path to his current career from working on his high school newspaper and college publication as an undergraduate history major at Columbia University.
“I really floated around and found my way for several years,” Kolker said. “About two years after college I got my first freelance assignments, and I started to discover reporting, and it was a revelation to me.”
Kolker latched onto his love of storytelling after he began working as a reporter for a community newspaper, he said. He worked his way up to New York Magazine after an assortment of other reporting jobs that allowed him to tap into his ability to write narrative stories about “everyday people.”
Martinez invited students to pose questions for Kolker during the last 10 to 15 minutes of the presentation. Kolker answered a few questions including one about his “inner critic” as the biggest struggle throughout his career and that it is difficult to have no closure regarding the killer of the five women.
“I really liked the whole investigation process and how (Kolker) was so persistent,” said Dalia Moreno, Mass Comm Week attendee. “I’m actually an electronic media major, but I’m doing a criminal justice minor, so what he’s doing is what I want to do.”
Kolker has plans to supplement his novel with a later edition filled with more updated information about the five murder cases after a paperback version is released in April or May.