The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism

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9780684830414: The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism
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Historical and international in scope, an anthology traces the course of literary journalism and nonfiction prose from its origins in the eighteenth century to today, from Daniel Defoe to Joseph Mitchell to Richard Ben Cramer

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Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda, journalists and journalism teachers, saw a need for a textbook that celebrated and organized outstanding examples of literary journalism. In this compendious volume spanning 372 years, the editors focus on the evolution of New Journalism, a term which, we learn, "was originally coined by Matthew Arnold in 1887 to describe the style of Stead's Pall Mall Gazette: brash, vivid, personal, reform-minded, and--occasionally, from Arnold's conservative viewpoint--'featherbrained.'"

The editors position Daniel Defoe's The True and Genuine Account of the Life and Actions of the Late Jonathan Wild (1725) as the prototype for the true-crime narrative. The collection's first section, entitled "Pioneers," includes such staples as Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, Walt Whitman's Specimen Days, and Jack London's daring 1902 exposé of life among the city of London's impoverished East Enders. Brief introductions to each selection set the historical context and explain innovative aspects of the piece. The second section compares two distinctly contemporary journalistic points of view: the "I Am a Camera" school and the unabashedly subjective approach exemplified by Norman Mailer and Hunter S. Thompson, among others. "Style as Substance" makes up the lively and often moving third section.

Many rich voices describe all angles of the human experience in this impressive volume. Through author Piers Paul Read we crash-land with a Uruguayan rugby team in the Andes; Lillian Ross gives us a notoriously devastating portrait of Ernest Hemingway; Ted Conover assimilates into illegal Mexican culture and smuggles us back and forth across the border. The only anthology of its kind, The Art of Fact almost doubles as a travel book.

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Kerrane, author of books about baseball, and Yagoda, author of a biography of Will Rogers, both teach courses on literary journalism, an endeavor that inspired their compilation of this distinctive and enjoyable anthology of, to use their definition, "thoughtfully, artfully, and valuably innovative" journalism. Kerrane and Yagoda have narrowed the broad category of creative nonfiction to writing that is literary in quality but strictly factual in content, as opposed to more impressionistic essays and memoirs. They discuss the finer points of literary journalism in their sharp and informative preface, then present an edifying array of sterling examples, ranging from works by such pioneers as Daniel Defoe, Stephen Crane, and Jack London to works by Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, and John McPhee. The selection of confident and sometimes riling voices is matched by an enlivening diversity of subject matter, from politics to sports, nature, war, and crime, a wealth guaranteed to broaden readers' perception of literary journalism and establish appropriately high standards for this vital genre. Donna Seaman

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