Literary Selves: Autobiography and Contemporary American Nonfiction

Literary Selves: Autobiography and Contemporary American Nonfiction

Literary Selves: Autobiography and Contemporary American Nonfiction

Literary Selves: Autobiography and Contemporary American Nonfiction

Synopsis

Departing from previous discussions of literary nonfiction in terms of its being literature or journalism, this new study treats literary nonfiction as autobiography, examining a large body of work in terms of autobiographical theory. The collected works of six very different prominent literary journalists--John McPhee, Joe McGinniss, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, and Norman Mailer--are analyzed from literary, autobiographical, and cultural perspectives. Author James Stull explains how the complex, fully-rounded psychological and social self is crystalized in these works into a more encompassing statement of self-identification, which he calls a "metaphor of self," a distinctive way an author presents a self and its world. Numerous other writers and critics are brought into the discussion, and the author provides an extensive reference bibliography.

Excerpt

While it took John McPhee over two decades to establish himself as one of America's preeminent writers of literary nonfiction, Joe McGinniss achieved success at a much younger age. After graduating from Holy Cross in 1964--the same year McPhee was writing A Sense of Where You Are, his first book of nonfiction--McGinniss worked as a reporter at the Port Chester Daily Item until he found an evening berth, nine months later, on the Worchester Telegram. In the following year, 1965, he fulfilled one of his life ambitions by becoming a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Bulletin. Soon afterward, editors at the Philadelphia Inquirer--the Bulletin's principal rival--offered McGinniss a job as a sports columnist. He turned it down and audaciously requested a position as a general issues columnist. The proposal was accepted by the Inquirer's editorial staff, and McGinniss, at age twenty-four, became the youngest columnist for a major U.S. newspaper. While McGinniss initially focused his triweekly pieces on subjects of local interest, within twelve months he was reporting on current and often controversial issues and events of national importance. It was a column on the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy that eventually contributed to his departure from the newspaper. When McGinniss wrote that the senator's death was an indirect result of a violent American society, the Inquirer's conservative publisher, Walter H. Annenberg, issued a public apology (editorial) that so incensed the young journalist that he took a leave of absence to complete an interview with Howard Cosell for TV Guide.

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