View from my hotel room. Minamata, Japan. March 2011.

Sam Stephenson was the 2012-13 Lehman Brady Visiting Joint Professor of Documentary Studies and American Studies at Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill.  He is a partner in Rock Fish Stew Institute of Literature and Materials, a Durham-based documentary company.

For more than a decade he was the director of The Jazz Loft Project (JLP) at CDS.  He has studied the life and work of photographer W. Eugene Smith since 1997.  His first book, Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project was published by W.W. Norton/CDS in 2001.  In 2009 Alfred A. Knopf published his book, The Jazz Loft Project: The Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue.  Currently he is writing a biography of Smith entitled Gene Smith’s Sink, for Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  Since 1997 Stephenson has conducted more than 500 oral history interviews, revealing an underground story of jazz and post-War arts unpreserved in the iconography.  JLP won a 2010 ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award,and a 2010 Innovative Use of Archives Award from the Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York.

Periodicals that have published Stephenson’s work include Paris Review, New York Times, Tin House, A Public Space, Oxford American, and Smithsonian.  He won a 2001-2002 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  He curated exhibitions for both Dream Street and The Jazz Loft Project that had runs at various museums such as the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, The International Center of Photography in New York, the New York Public Library, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke.   He co-produced the Jazz Loft Project Radio Series with Sara Fishko and WNYC: New York Public Radio.  He has been featured on NPR several times, NBC’s Today Show, CBS Sunday Morning, CNN, and the BBC.

In April 2013 Stephenson formed the Rock Fish Stew Institute of Literature and Materials, a new platform from which to perform documentary work.  Rock Fish Stew’s inaugural project was Bull City Summer: A Season at the Ball Park, which concerns a season-long project to document the sights and sounds and stories at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, employing a team of writers, art photographers, and mixed-media artists.


Details at Rock Fish Stew’s website.

A biography of W. Eugene Smith for Farrar, Straus and Giroux, working title Gene Smith’s Sink.  Manuscript due February 2014.

A series of pieces for Paris Review Daily, some stemming from work on Gene Smith’s Sink, some unrelated. Pieces can be read HERE.

A documentary film based on his book, The Jazz Loft Project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Working with director Sara Fishko and WNYC: New York Public Radio.  Fishko was the director of the Jazz Loft Radio Project.

Chaos Manor, a.k.a (A)Loft Modulation, a theater project in partnership with playwright Jaymes Jorsling and director, Christopher McElroen, who directed the acclaimed Waiting for Godot in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans after Katrina and directed the first-ever adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Chaos Manor’s first step was an experimental 45-minute incarnation at the Invisible Dog in Brooklyn September 15-17, 2011, and a public reading of Jorsling’s script on September 20, 2012, both Bookend events of the Brooklyn Book Festival.  The project is now being workshopped for stage.

Spring 2013 Stephenson founded a new literary-documentary venture based in Chapel Hill-Durham called Rock Fish Stew Institute of Literature and Materials, a platform on which to develop collaborative documentary projects.

Bull City Summer: A Season at the Ballpark and Beyond is the first pilot project of Rock Fish Stew. A team of fifteen photographers and writers are converging on the Durham Bulls Athletic Park during the 2013 season to document what happens on and off the field.  The project website is HERE.


A TV series pilot set in 1959 in a Manhattan loft building which is an after-hours haunt of jazz musicians, most struggling.

For Sam Stephenson’s bio, please download (PDF).