Literary Journalism: A Biographical Dictionary of Writers and Editors

Article excerpt

Applegate, Edd. Literary Journalism: A Biographical Dictionary of Writers and Editors. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. 326 pp. $85.

This reference work may help students to identify some of the figures associated with literary journalism who are worthy of further study. It offers short profiles of a wide variety of literary journalists, as well as, significantly, the editors who encouraged them. The inclusion of several of the latter-for instance, William Shawn of the New Yorker-is welcome, as it will assist neglected study of the gatekeepers of literary journalism, who often wielded considerable influence over the genre. Also praiseworthy is the inclusion of several important British figures such as Rebecca West, Charles Dickens and George Orwell.

Entries are arranged alphabetically and deal primarily with literary journalists, who range from the usual suspects (such as Lillian Ross, John Hersey, Joan Didion and Truman Capote) to much less familiar individuals (such as Paul Bullock, Albert Goldman and Jill Johnston). Entries vary in depth. For example, the James Agee entry neglects to mention the standard source, Paul Ashdown's superb analysis of Agee's literary journalism in the introduction to James Agee: Selected Journalism. In many of the other entries also, one wishes for a bibliographical mention that is less perfunctory.

Many of the author's entry choices are problematic, especially his inclusion of writers such as James Baldwin and Carol Bly on the basis of their essays. The essay is a timehonored subset of literary nonfiction-of which literary journalism is a part. But does this mean we should consider Baldwin and Bly to be literary journalists? This unreflective inclusiveness-not only of essayists, but of many other writersseriously flaws this work. If everyone is a literary journalist, then no one is.

Sorely lacking is a sophisticated and nuanced conception of literary journalism; more clear-cut definitional boundaries, or even a rationale for their lack, are essential but missing. …