Mary Ann Hogan: 1951-2019

Editor’s note: Mary Ann “ma” Hogan, a career coach with the Chips Quinn Scholars Program who mentored hundreds of scholars from 1997 to 2012, died June 13, 2019. She was 67. This is her obituary, written by her before she died.

Read the appreciation

Read Andrew Ba Tran’s (Spring 2006) essay on what Mary Ann’s mentorship meant to him.

Mary Ann Hogan and her retriever Joe

Mary Ann Hogan, longtime journalist and beloved writing teacher, crossed over Thursday, June 13 in the Mill Valley home she cherished, after a year-long tango with a rare form of lymphoma. Her husband, her two sons, and her dog were with her. Mary Ann saw death not as an ending, but rather as the beginning of the final, infinite chamber in the nautilus shell of a creative life.

Mary Ann did not follow the rules. She followed her instincts, enthusiastically pushing the boundaries of teaching, writing, cooking, singing, gardening, living – whatever she took on. She raised a family and made friends with the same artistic passion.

After graduating from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Mary Ann started writing freelance for the Washington Post and the San Jose Mercury News. She then became an award-winning staff writer for Bob and Nancy Maynard’s Oakland Tribune.

“Mary Ann made me a better editor,” recalled Sarah Pollock, who was Hogan’s editor at the Tribune and a longtime journalism professor at Mills College. “She taught me to listen with imagination and heart.”

“Mary Ann would arrive at my desk trailing a ten-foot-tail of dot-matrix printer paper filled with anecdotes and descriptions and questions and wonderful leaps of imagination,” she said. “We learned together how to collaborate … and the stories she created were beautiful. Many went viral, as we would now call it, reprinted in newspapers all over the country.”

Mary Ann left daily journalism to raise her two sons, William and James. She began to teach, both at San Francisco State University and in private writing groups. She continued to freelance, her stories appearing in most of the nation’s major newspapers. For six years, she wrote personal essays that were nationally syndicated by the Los Angeles Times.

Her stories explored the human condition, with headlines such as: “Why We Harp and Carp” or “Twigged Out: the Nesting Instinct.”

One day, Mary Ann got a message at an old email address from a nun asking “Are you the author who wrote this story about ‘Why We Cry’ ? If so, can you please send me a new copy? I have been Xeroxing this one for 10 years for my workshops for homeless women and can no longer read the type.” Mary Ann sent the story – and then flew to Southern California to lead one of the nun’s workshops.

In 1994, she followed her husband, digital news futurist Eric Newton, to Virginia. There, she took on a new challenge as the primary writer for the history exhibits at the original Newseum in Arlington, Va. The news museum’s popular history gallery was conceived, written and edited using her “Whole Story” writing method.

In Virginia, she also began a 15-year tenure as a writing coach with the Chips Quinn Scholars program, training hundreds of young journalists of color, many of whom went on to stellar careers.

“Mary Ann was a gift and my guide. She made me shine,” said Tonya Alanez, who covers crime and breaking news at the South Florida Sun Sentinel, where she was part of the team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

From the time she was an intern, Alanez was coached by Hogan, first through the Chips Quinn and later when Mary Ann was the Sun Sentinel’s writing coach.

“She taught me to connect the dots rather than line them up,” Alanez said, “to strike a chord, an emotional chord … to write with heart.”

When the family moved to Florida, Mary Ann took her coaching to the national stage, training thousands of professionals from hundreds of publications via the American Press Institute, Poynter Institute, Maynard Institute and many other organizations, including the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. At Poynter, her online class, “News Sense,” was one of the most popular self-directed courses for a decade.

Hogan was born in San Francisco on Sept. 1, 1951 into a newspaper family. Her father, William Hogan, a Stars and Stripes correspondent during World War II, spent more than 40 years as book and drama critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Her mother, Phyllis, joined the Chronicle during the war as the chief “copy boy” in the newsroom, later becoming a writer and teacher.

Like her parents, Mary Ann met her future spouse in a newsroom. In 1979, she was a feature writer at the Oakland Tribune when Eric, her husband-to-be, was a “copy boy.” Married 32 years, they were each other’s best editors, between them polishing Mary Ann’s writing method and working together on everything from plays and books to interactive games and retail products.

In middle age, Mary Ann opened another unexpected door, earning a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Florida Atlantic University. For seven years, she taught freshmen English at FAU and Palm Beach State College. One of her greatest joys was watching her students suddenly come alive as writers, and she relished hearing how far those skills had taken them.

Mary Ann and her husband returned to California in the spring of 2016, back to the Mill Valley home where she grew up. She started a new private writing group for women, wrote a local column for the Marin Independent Journal and built a California garden in her hillside backyard.

She attributed much of her success to the generous hand of mentors along the way. Early on, she promised to spend her life mentoring others – and she did.

Mary Ann leaves to this life her husband, Eric Newton of Mill Valley; her sons, William Newton of San Francisco and James Newton of Mill Valley; her sister, Michele Liapes of San Francisco; her brother, Dennis Hogan of Laytonville, and his wife, Beth; her niece, Annika Hogan and her husband, Dusty Hughston, of Miranda, Ca.; great nephews Shade, Asher and Haze, and her flatcoat retriever, Joe.

And she leaves with this thought, from her favorite Stanley Kunitz poem, “The Layers” — “I am not done with my changes.”

The family prefers donations to The Hogan-Newton Fund for up-and-coming journalists at the Miami Foundation; the Mill Valley Public Library; the Marin Humane Society and the Southern Poverty Law Center. A private memorial is forthcoming.

One thought on “Mary Ann Hogan: 1951-2019

  1. When I was a Chips Quinn scholar in 1997, working at the News-Journal in Delaware, Mary Ann said of my lead to one story that it was “sheer genius.” I haven’t gotten a complement like that again. The story was about a family owned sanitation business selling out to a larger company. The founder of the company happened to be around when I interviewed his son. Here’s that lead (as far as I can remember it): “When E. Thomas Harvey Jr. first started hauling neighbors’ trash to the town dump, all he needed was a wagon.” “People would ask, ‘How’s business?’ and I’d say, “Pickin’ up.'” We also worked together on a comment I wrote about the 9-11 attacks. We weren’t in touch much after that, but I’ll always remember her warmth and gentle way of guiding us all to improve our writing.

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