Literary Journalism

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Tom Wolfe, a quarter of a century ago in his manifesto about “the New Journalism,” said that the novel was dying, because a new group of social-literary upstarts were inventing a new genre – literary journalism.

Dead, too, were the old-school, career-track ambitions of news hacks with literary pretensions. No more climbing from beat news to features to maybe ascend to the Vahalla of the worthy writer: the novel.

Wolfe wrote that journalists could set scenes and sketch characters just like novelists, but the journalists had the advantage, because everything they wrote was true. Of course, elegant and informed journalism using a literary voice was around long before the “New Journalism,” and Wolfe has since left the trade to write novels.

If Wolfe didn’t believe deeply enough in his own manifesto, though, others did. Literary journalism has flourished, even as many of it’s traditional print vehicles have struggled. In the New Yorker, Harpers, the center column of The Wall Street Journal, on the web, and in a handful of papers around the country readers can still find true stories faithfully reported in fine prose style.

At a conference at Boston University in early December writers, accomplished and would-be, gathered to read and talk about their craft. We tagged along to record these readings by writers Tracy Kidder, JoAnn Wypijewski, Charlie Pierce, and Mark Kramer.

And so in the first hour of The Conneciton, some true stories well told.

First, Tracy Kidder, author of “House,” “Among Schoolchildren” and the 1982 Pulizter Prize winning “Soul of a New Machine.” Here, Kidder reads an exerpt from his book “Home Town,” a book about Northampton, Massachusetts. This part of the book tells the story of Alan, a lawyer who made millions dealing in real estate around Northampton. It begins at a meeting on the day Alan’s life would change forever.

The next story is by JoAnn Wypijewski, a Senior Editor for The Nation Magazine. “The Secret Sharer” appeared in Harpers Magazine. It’s a story about the Nushawn Williams case – a young, HIV-positive drug dealer from Brooklyn who moved to Jamestown in upstate New York and slept around leaving a micro-demic in his wake. Wypijewski focused on the women in the story. She reads two sections from the piece here, the first beginning with a quote from a song “I Love You Baby” by rapper Puff Daddy.

Charlie Pierce is well-known to many public radio listeners as a commentator on “Only A Game” and “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” Pierce has been a forest ranger and a bowling reporter, a staff writer for both GQ and Esquire. Here he reads a section of a new memoir, “Hard to Forget: An Alzheimer’s Story,” about the disease that struck his father and all his father’s siblings. This reading’s about one day in 1985 when Pierce’s father drove off to the local flower store and disappeared for three days.

Mark Kramer is author of “Three Farms: Making Milk, Meat and Money from the American Soil,” “Invasive Procedures: A Year in the World of Two Surgeons,” and “Travels with a Hungry Bear.” He’s professor of journalism and writer-in-residence at Boston University. This is an exerpt of “Invasive Procedures.”
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


The work of literary journalists Tracy Kidder, JoAnn Wypijewski, Charlie Pierce and Mark Kramer.