Join us at The Writer’s Center to celebrate the 2022 publication of Jennifer Cockburn’s biography of her father, Writing For His Life: Stewart Cockburn, Crusading Journalist (Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2022). Jennifer is in conversation with journalist and author Margaret Engel. Book signing and refreshments to follow.
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Jennifer Cockburn grew up in Australia and moved to the United States after she graduated from the Australian National University with a BA in Political Science and an LLB (Hons) degree. After earning her Master of Laws at Georgetown University, she pursued a nearly 30-year legal career in Washington, DC, first in private practice and then at the International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank Group. She retired in 2008 with the idea of writing a biography of her father, the late Australian journalist and author Stewart Cockburn. Writing for His Life is the result. Jennifer lives in Maryland.
Margaret Engel directs the Alicia Patterson Journalism Foundation, which gives grants to journalists in the name of Alicia Patterson, the founder of Newsday. She was a reporter for the Washington Post, Des Moines Register and Lorain (OH) Journal and was a Nieman fellow at Harvard, studying worker health and law. She is chair of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism awards board and is a longtime member of Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Op-Ed Mentoring Project. She serves on the board of the Nieman Foundation and of Spotlight-DC, a journalism nonprofit. She has co-authored books on baseball, American regional food companies and clothing re-use. Her book “Food Finds” became a nine-year television series on The Food Network. She and her identical twin wrote widely-produced plays about two American journalists, Molly Ivins and Erma Bombeck.
About the Book
An “engaging and meticulous biography”. Mark Day, Weekend Australian.
As a journalist, Stewart Cockburn (1921-2009) was instinctive and fearless. The 16-year-old copy boy who started at the Adelaide Advertiser in 1938 was to have a career in writing, radio and television that spanned more than 45 years. Restless ambition took him to Melbourne with the Herald under the mentorship of Sir Keith Murdoch, to post-war London with Reuters, to Canberra as Press Secretary to Prime Minister Robert Menzies in the early 1950s (accompanying the PM on two overseas tours), and to Washington, DC as Press Attaché at the Australian Embassy during the Kennedy years.
On returning to the Advertiser, Cockburn’s feature-writing won him a national Walkley Award (the most prestigious award in Australian journalism), and his opinion columns were ever informative and influential. In 1978 he challenged Premier Don Dunstan’s politically charged sacking of Police Commissioner Harold Salisbury. His tenacious investigative journalism also prompted the 1983 Royal Commission into the scientifically questionable murder conviction of Eddie Splatt and led to his exoneration. His books included The Salisbury Affair and well-received biographies of South Australia’s long-serving Premier Sir Thomas Playford and, with David Ellyard, the eminent Australian nuclear scientist and popular public figure Sir Mark Oliphant (who oversaw the critical development of radar, and worked on the Manhattan Project).
Writing For His Life draws on Stewart Cockburn’s prolific correspondence and journals, his oral histories, public writings and other sources to bring to life a driven journalist and the changing times he so closely observed. The book’s balanced narrative documents his peripatetic career, examining both its highlights and disappointments, and the singular qualities that made Cockburn a highly respected and at times controversial journalist. It is a story of intense idealism and a quest for truth that resulted in important public interest journalism.
“Stewart Cockburn was probably the most prominent, and certainly the most controversial, journalist to write for the Advertiser during those golden years of newspaper journalism.” –John Scales, Former Advertiser editor
“The complexities of the man, the incongruities, the contrasts, made him such a character. His daring. We all pushed our editors to the brink sometimes in those happy, happy newspaper days when free speech was valued and non-conformity tolerated.” –Shirley Stott Despoja OAM, The Adelaide Review, August 2009