The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism

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The Art of Fact is a historical treasury tracing what used to be called "new" journalism back to such pioneers as Defoe, Dickens, and Orwell, and to crime writers, investigative social reporters, and war correspondents who stretched the limits of style and even propriety to communicate powerful truth. The tradition is alive and well in stories that take us from a cantina in Los Angeles to a lesbian bar in Dublin, from a massacre in Tiananmen Square to a nonviolent revolution in the Philippines. This international emphasis links American literary journalists to their counterparts in England, Africa, and Russia.
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Editorial Reviews

William Georgiades

Literary journalism may not be dead, but it's certainly been quiet over the past decade or so. A glance at the winners of recent national magazine awards, or even a gander at the top-notch glossies, supplies plenty of evidence that the watchword for journalists has gone from "literary" to "service," as in catering -- to advertisers, special interest groups, corporate owners and, somewhere down the list, after the cultural common denominators and demographics have been determined, the reader.

A more pleasing way of soaking up this stark and obvious fact can be found in reading The Art of Fact, a wonderful anthology of literary journalism edited by Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda. The 61 pieces collected here, dating from 1725 to this decade, enrich rather than cater. Chestnuts abound -- there's Jimmy Breslin interviewing JFK's gravedigger, Ron Rosenbaum uncovering Yale's Skull and Bones club 20 years ago (he never got better than this) and Tom Wolfe's magnificently nonsensical profile of 1964's "Girl of the Year," the now-forgotten Jane Holzer. It is impossible to imagine that last piece being considered by any of the more careful magazines today -- just witness the first sentence: "Bangs manes bouffants beehives Beatle caps butter faces brush-on lashes ... aren't they super-marvelous?"

John Hersey's searing account of the survivors in Hiroshima is also included, along with an equally devastating piece on Tiananmen Square by John Simon (he saves one soldier from being ripped to shreds by an angry mob and recounts the fate of two others). A real find is Ernest Hemingway on a Japanese earthquake, written when he was 24 for the Toronto Daily News. Flip a few pages and compare that with Lilian Ross' devastating profile of Hemingway written for the New Yorker 25 years later. The wealth of talent and ability on display is such that the table of contents alone is enough to urge one to pick this book up. Among those included: Bill Buford, Tracy Kidder, Gay Talese, Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, George Orwell, Jack London and Steven Crane.

There are some curious omissions -- notably work from gifted young writers such as David Foster Wallace, Martin Amis, Tom Junod, David Remnick and, most surprisingly, Alec Wilkinson. Jeffrey Bernard, whose "Low Life" column for the British Spectator has to be the most literate column going, doesn't appear either. Older work is unearthed such as Boswell, Dafoe and Dickens, but no mention is made of Oscar Wilde's quite wonderful interview with himself in the St. James Gazette in 1895. There are one too many novel excerpts and certain selections smack of careless PC scouring -- witness Lawrence Otis Graham's 1993 piece for New York magazine on being a yuppie in Harlem, a tidy enough story idea the execution of which simply pales next to the work of Tim O'Brien, Ben Hecht or Joseph Mitchell (all included).

Both editors make stabs at defining literary journalism. The two phrases that leap off the page are "making facts dance" and Ezra Pound's definition of literature, "news that stays news." A more satisfying definition, of course, lies in the work itself and in the curious irony that Yagoda and Kerrane, in turning their backs on the current vogue for service, have offered a true service. Yagoda states his mission as an attempt to "make the case that literary journalism exists, and is not an oxymoron." Happily, he and his colleague have succeeded. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
There is a lot of wonderful writing here, but the book is organized more as a textbook than as a collection for general readers. The headnotes not only are sketchily biographical but often furnish pithy, stylistic particulars about technique when the writer displays an approach that sets off his or her work from others'. Yet despite the care in the selection of historical extracts (from Defoe to Jack London) as well as of more contemporary examples, there are no explanatory notes. The journalists represented are both name figures, such as Hemingway and Mailer, and top newspaper and magazine pros; and the selections range from appalling to moving to hilarious. Although many memorable lines are too idiosyncratic to be lessons to aspiring writers, Rosemary Mahoney's description of two Irishwomen--one with short hair "laid on in clumps, like sod," the other with longer hair "like Spanish moss"--inspires admiration. Perhaps the shortest and certainly among the best is Michael Winerip's 800-word column from the New York Times in 1987, "Holiday Pageant: The Importance of Being Bluebell," a gem of observation, selective quotation and sensitivity. As the editors Kerrane (Dollar Sign on the Muscle) and Yagoda (Will Rogers) demonstrate, there is an art of fact. (Aug.)
Library Journal
The authors (both English and journalism, Univ. of Delaware) compiled this excellent anthology for their students in a college course in literary journalism. In their introductions, they define literary journalism as factual, innovative, and current stories about an event, making the point that this "new" journalism is not really new but has been practiced for many years. The journalists included range from Charles Dickens and Jack London to Gay Talese and Joan Didion. Kerrane and Yagoda give brief biographies of the writers, usually telling why they chose the particular work, when the piece was written, and where it first appeared. This book is recommended for journalism collections but it could easily find interested readers in most libraries.Rebecca Wondriska, Trinity Coll. Lib., Hartford, Ct.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684846309
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 8/28/1998
  • Edition description: First Touchstone Edition
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 688,883
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.43 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface 13
Making Facts Dance 17
from The True and Genuine Account of the Life and Actions of the Late Jonathan Wild 23
from The Life of Samuel Johnson 29
Watercress Girl 34
The Great Tasmania's Cargo 38
from Specimen Days 46
from If Christ Came to Chicago 49
When Man Falls, a Crown Gathers 58
An Experiment in Misery 63
The Death of Rodriguez 71
Can't Get Their Minds Ashore 76
Pillelu, Pillelu! 80
from The People of the Abyss 83
Drift 93
from Ninety Times Guilty 97
Juke Joint 104
from Hiroshima 111
The Day of the Fight 115
from "Portrait of Hemingway" 129
Two Generals 139
The Silent Season of a Hero 143
from In Cold Blood 161
from The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test 169
from Alive 183
from House 199
from Brothers 204
So ... We Meet at Last, Mr. Bond 212
Shadow of a Nation 218
from What It Takes 236
The Spike 245
from "The Bronx Slave Market" 252
from The Earl of Louisiana 258
The Fight to Live 271
from The Armies of the Night 290
from "The Scum Also Rises" 302
The Last Secrets of Skull and Bones 316
from Coyotes 331
from "The Snap Revolution" 336
Tiananmen Square 347
from Among the Thugs 354
from Whoredom in Kimmage 367
from "Harlem on My Mind" 384
from "Snake Handling and Redemption" 391
The Pig 407
Japanese Earthquake 411
from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men 417
The Third Winter 422
Marrakech 433
Lady Olga 439
from Black Lamb and Grey Falcon 452
from Once There Was a War 458
Lethal Lightning 461
It's an Honor 466
The Girl of the Year 469
Los Angeles Notebook 480
from The Pine Barrens 485
from Dispatches 494
from Another Day of Life 507
from Homicide 522
from Boys in Zinc 536
Holiday Pageant: The Importance of Being Bluebell 549
Permissions 553
Index 557
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