The Art of Fact: Contemporary Artists of Nonfiction

The Art of Fact: Contemporary Artists of Nonfiction

The Art of Fact: Contemporary Artists of Nonfiction

The Art of Fact: Contemporary Artists of Nonfiction

Synopsis

The Art of Fact is the first comprehensive examination of five of today's most popular and important nonfiction artists: Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, John McPhee, Joan Didion, and Norman Mailer. This book examines literary nonfiction in the broad context of the prose narrative form and discusses the role it plays in the American literary tradition. Drawing from personal interviews with Gay Talese and John McPhee and including new interpretations of the works of Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion and Norman Mailer, The Art of Fact is a timely call for critical appreciation of the artistry of nonfiction and offers valuable insights to both students and fans of contemporary nonfiction.

Excerpt

The artistry of nonfiction is the great unexplored territory of contemporary criticism. This is ironic, for the second half of the twentieth century has been an age of nonfiction. American book clubs, which began in the 1920s offering primarily fiction, now emphasize nonfiction. Today's New York Times Book Review reviews nonfiction over fiction almost three to one. In truth, our age has stopped subscribing to the belief that the novel is the highest form of the literary imagination. It is beginning to think of fiction as only one of many artful "prose narratives in print," to use Lennard Davis's accurate phrase (44). Other compelling prose narratives are certain artful memoirs, autobiographies, biographies, histories, travelogues, essays, works of journalism, forms of nature and science writing, and ingenious combinations of these forms.

If we live in an age of nonfiction, then why is critical appreciation of this work so rare? This is explained, in part, by the inevitable lag of the critic behind the artist, but also by the lack of a satisfactory name for this work. How do we distinguish what I will call artful literary nonfiction from the often artless and droning expository prose that floods the category "nonfiction"? The very term "nonfiction" discloses the former Romantic bias toward fiction: everything not fiction is nonfiction. Pity the nonfiction artists! Caught in this catchall category, their works are ignored. Scholars skilled at tracing artistic and rhetorical strategies in fiction, poetry, and drama seem to halt at the border of nonfiction; they have made few forays toward even a simple taxonomy of the form. As a result, critical appreciation of such a highly esteemed writer as John McPhee exists primarily in the form of brief book reviews. The same is true of Gay Talese, whose prodigious research and continuing efforts to explore the boundaries of "fact writing" have earned him the . . .

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