Gay Talese and the Fine Art of Hanging Out

At precisely 4 p.m. on December 28, 1983, I knocked on the door of Gay Talese’s five-story town house at 109 East 61st in New York City.

At precisely 4 p.m. on December 28, 1983, I knocked on the door of Gay Talese’s five-story town house at 109 East 61st in New York City. In 1987 he researched the history of this building and wrote about it for Architectural Digest, recounting how he and his wife, the much-admired editor Nan Talese, began to accumulate apartments in the building (one of which they sublet to William Styron for writing “The Confessions of Nat Turner”) until they were able to buy the entire building in 1972 with the profits from “Honor Thy Father,” Gay’s behind-the-scenes look at the Mafia and the second of his four best-selling works of creative nonfiction.

Gay and Nan have two daughters, and the younger daughter, Catherine, then 16, admitted me to a living room with leather couches and tall, white bookcases, politely offered me a glass of wine, and summoned her father. Talese descended the stairs from his fourth-floor study and invited me upward. He was wearing a pink shirt with a white collar, a burgundy tie and gray slacks. He often wears a tie or a neck scarf when he writes, both for warmth and as a sign of the formality with which he approaches his work. Talese would never wear jeans, for he comes from a family of tailors. The word dapper is always evoked to describe his dress, and in fact many of his expensive, European-cut suits are made by relatives on the Rue de la Paix.

Talese’s painstaking craftsmanship as a writer derives directly from his tailor forebears. He places great stock in “material.” When preparing to write, he fastens to a Styrofoam board with tailors’ hatpins minuscule, swatch-like character cards. As he stitches his scenes together, he seeks “seamless construction”—all these practices honoring the tailor father whose profession he did not enter. (Talese is named for his immigrant Italian grandfather, Gaetano Talese, a stonemason.)

When we arrived at Gay’s study, fully half was work space: a writing table along the full length of one wall and half of another, cork bulletin boards above for notes and time lines, and bookshelves above that. Talese is fastidious in his organization and famously unmechanical. His study always has notes carefully pinned about that extend even to tiny instructions taped to his computer keys offering such reminders as “Open—1 click.” Along the east wall are mirrored closets containing his many suits. “We were a Fitzgerald generation, not a Hemingway generation,” Talese has insisted to me, and in the course of that afternoon, I felt I was in a Gatsbyian world. At one point, Talese showed me his suits.

Talese is lean and wiry, taut, yet when in repose, remarkably graceful. He has written wonderfully of Joe DiMaggio, Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali and other sports figures and possesses himself something of an athlete’s grace. A former New York Times sports writer, he is a skillful tennis player and has never lost his interest in sports. Nevertheless, he has a subtle way of hanging back—although always in a poised and graceful manner—marking his favorite position, that of fly on the wall.

Talese courteously offered me a sandwich, but when I declined, he immediately launched into his life story. It was as if he knew I knew his writing; now he wanted me to know what was behind the work. As he talked, I noticed his olive skin, his brown hair (which has become increasingly gray and white since 1983), and his large, deep-set brown eyes—his most distinctive feature. I sensed he was still smarting from the harsh reviews of his most recent book, “Thy Neighbor’s Wife,” a study of sex and censorship in America from the Puritans to Playboy. The volume had been an extraordinary financial success, film rights alone selling for a then-record $6 million, but this reward was marred by the critical thrashing. Many reviewers were outraged at Talese’s opening the doors of sexual privacy and at his widely publicized participatory research methods, which included briefly running a massage parlor, visiting nudist colonies, and taking part in free-love activities at the Sandstone commune in California. When Talese broke the Mafia’s code of silence, he had been praised, but when he dared to report the bedroom, that was another story.

Such hostility was new to Talese, and I sensed he felt misunderstood. Most painful of all was a critical editorial in the southern New Jersey newspaper that had given Talese his start as a high-school reporter, and the repercussions felt by his parents, wife and daughters. Told of slighting remarks addressed to his 77-year-old father on the Ocean City golf course, Talese offered to sell his summer home in Ocean City and spare his parents further embarrassment by never returning to the island. When I saw him that afternoon, I felt he was boomeranging between defiance and a wish to make amends.

Two hours later an emissary from PEN International interrupted this first interview, but Talese kindly invited me to return the following day. As I departed I caught a glimpse of how the writer involves himself in people’s lives. When Talese saw it had begun to rain, he expressed fear for the gray suede coat I was wearing and summarily ordered 16-year-old Catherine to lend me her tan raincoat and black rubber boots. Embarrassed beyond belief, I strenuously demurred, looking desperately at Catherine, whom I thought must be as appalled as I. But apparently this was nothing new to the dutiful daughter of a complex paterfamilias. I walked into the New York night wearing a Talese raincoat, Talese boots—and carrying a Talese umbrella, as well.

How did Talese convince Mafiosi to violate their code of silence (for “Honor Thy Father”)? How was he able to recreate actual scenes of sexual infidelity, using real names and with the permission of the participants (in “Thy Neighbor’s Wife”)? Talese has made a career of reporting difficult or forbidden subjects. To do so he has perfected what he calls “the fine art of hanging out,” and he may have thought more deeply about research and interviewing than any other nonfiction writer living today.

He sees himself as the chronicler of losers and the unnoticed. He is always drawn to the unnoticed story, the kind of story that is present yet ignored by everyone because they are following “the big story.” At Madison Square Garden, while the other reporters were writing about the fight, Talese wrote of the man who rang the bell between the rounds. Here was someone present yet unremarked on and thought unremarkable until Talese turned his gaze, his indefatigable research and his respectful language on him.

Talese is as attuned to the unspoken as he is to the unnoticed, and he credits his mother, Catherine DePaolo Talese, who ran the family’s dress boutique, for teaching him early the secrets of engendering trust. The Talese Town Shop, he has written,

was a kind of talk-show that flowed around the engaging manner and well-timed questions of my mother; and as a boy not much taller than the counters behind which I used to pause and eavesdrop, I learned much that would be useful to me years later. I learned to listen with patience and care, and never to interrupt, even when people were having great difficulty in explaining themselves, for during such halting and imprecise moments … people often are very revealing—what they hesitate to talk about can tell much about them. Their pauses, their evasions, their sudden shifts in subject matter are likely indicators of what embarrasses them, or irritates them, or what they regard as too private or imprudent to be disclosed to another person at that particular time. However, I have also overheard many people discussing candidly with my mother what they had earlier avoided—a reaction that I think had less to do with her inquiring nature or sensitively posed questions than with their gradual acceptance of her as a trustworthy individual in whom they could confide.

Like his 93-year-old mother, Talese will wait for a story. It took him five years to gain the confidence of Mafia son Bill Bonanno. However, he began his courtship in unforgettable fashion. When Talese first saw the young Bonanno, standing in a federal courthouse corridor with his lawyer in 1965, he was looking across the Establishment divide at his double. He did not know then that their family albums would look remarkably similar, but he saw enough to be curious. He saw enough to wait until all the other reporters had abandoned their efforts to penetrate Bill’s silence and then go to Bill’s lawyer and say in front of Bill, “Someday, not now, not tomorrow, but someday I would like to know from this young man what it is like to be this young man. Someday.”

Talese followed these portentous words with letters to Bill, sent to the lawyer’s office. Talese believes strongly in physical presence, and he supplemented the letters with periodic visits to the lawyer, each time reaffirming his interest in Bill and his story. When I first met Talese, I assumed he must have an exceptionally charming or sympathetic interview manner to have ingratiated himself with so many different kinds of people. However, it is not his style that is exceptional (he is neither gentle nor coddling) but his patience and persistence that win him the day. In the case of Bonanno, Talese’s perseverance gained him first a dinner with Bill four months later, then other dinners, and finally a Christmas card from Bill in 1969 inviting Talese to visit him in California.

Talese faced a different source problem with John and Judith Bullaro, major figures in “Thy Neighbor’s Wife”: the problem of willing sources who later get cold feet. After spending weeks and months with the Bullaros over a period of five years, during which he interviewed them at length about their open marriage and sexual affairs; after gaining written releases from them both, granting him permission to write about their lives; and even after taking the unusual step for him of sending them transcripts of his interviews and reading them the actual scenes he had written, Talese received a devastating call from John Bullaro. Bullaro had changed his mind and did not want his or his wife’s name in “Thy Neighbor’s Wife.” Bullaro was a faculty member at a California college, but he had not yet been granted tenure. He begged Talese to change their names.

“I told him I did not do that,” Talese said. “I wanted the individuals in “Thy Neighbor’s Wife” to be identifiable and the information to be verifiable. I wanted people who read the book to know it was true, and if anyone wanted to investigate me, I wanted them to know they could find out where these people lived and could check with them regarding accuracy. At that point I had a choice to make. I could drop the book, drop the Bullaros from the book, or be persistent and convincing and just refuse to alter this policy I have always had. Finally, when they were feeling more secure, I was able to convince them that not only did I have a great deal involved, but that they had something involved, too, which was the truth of their lives.”

Talese’s standards for creative nonfiction are high. His dislike of fictitious names is so great it even affects his reading. “If I start reading an article in a magazine,” he told me, “and at about the third or fourth paragraph, after I have gotten interested in an individual described, the writer explains in brackets or dashes that this is Ônot his real name,’ I stop reading. Sometimes when I stop reading, the writing has been very good. Nevertheless I resent it, and I stop. I do this because I believe that if the writer had worked harder and was more persuasive, the person could have been convinced to come forth and stand by that portrait or information.”

Talese also avoids composite portraits, although he acknowledges he could have saved six months’ work had he succumbed to this temptation and combined the lives of two similar persons in “Thy Neighbor’s Wife.” Like John McPhee, William Least Heat-Moon and other nonfiction luminaries, Talese harbors little love for the tape recorder. The few times he has felt obliged to use one, he has employed a research assistant to work the machine. “Tape recorders are lawyers’ tools, not writers’ tools,” he believes. “Publishers want tapes to protect them from lawsuits, but tape recorders encourage writers to publish first-draft prose.”

Talese’s own research methods are more subtle. In the deep breast pockets of his suits, he carries notepaper cut with rounded arches at the top and bottom and folded in thirds, each side precisely 4 inches wide and 7” inches long. He numbers each of the arches and heads it with the date of an encounter. Underneath he jots his interview notes in tiny writing, both cursive and print. These notes he later annotates in several shades of ink. In 1996, following a six-day sojourn in Cuba with Mohammed Ali, Talese’s first step was to reproduce all six arches in columns on one sheet of yellow paper. He then elaborated each day onto other sheets, each iteration giving him a deeper understanding of his material. In this way scenes emerge, and Talese finds his story. Ideally he tries to stay with his subjects long enough for a dramatic or revealing moment to occur. This gives to his nonfiction narratives the tensions and structure of the best fiction or drama.

“I am a portrait painter, and I paint my portraits with words,” he told me in 1984. “There is a difference between being curious and being nosy. Curiosity is caring a lot about people and not just wanting to intrude into their affairs. It is wanting to know about character and behavior and what it is like being them. I am a fractured person, prismatic. You turn me around, you get other colors. That is the way I think people are, but you have to turn them around. You have to see them from different angles, so I do not come on one-dimensionally and see people from a frontal position as they might wish to project themselves, showing their best profile. I turn them around, or I turn myself around, so I can see them from different perspectives.”

Like Henry James, Talese employs setting to enhance psychological mood. “The Loser,” his famous Esquire profile of heavyweight boxer Floyd Patterson, opens on an abandoned clubhouse and an untuned piano. In his first best-seller, the 1969 “Kingdom and the Power,” the ghost of New York Times founder Adolph Ochs haunts each generation of Times reporters—and the reader as well—from his busts and portraits brooding down from the walls.

Talese is also a master of interior monologue. Sometimes he will switch to italics to telegraph his movement to his subjects’ internal feelings and thoughts. “Critics make too much of the barriers to interior monologue,” he insists. “They act as if interior monologue is a trick. Writing accurate interior monologues takes time, but it is no trick. There are certain moments in people’s lives—usually dramatic or highly memorable incidents—where they can recall their thoughts, feelings and other details as vividly 10 years from the event as in the moment after. A writer can judge the validity of these accounts by the way the person remembers the details.” Here again “hanging out” is the key. “By getting to know a person very, very well,” Talese believes, “you are able to know if the person is an individual who embroiders reality or makes self-serving statements. This would influence how you might report the person’s attitudes—or whether you would render the reported thoughts and feelings at all.”

For most of his career, Talese has favored third-person writing, although his most recent work, the 1992 “Unto the Sons,” which tells the story of Italian immigration to America through Talese’s own family saga, shifts between first person and third. “I do not like first-person writing,” he bluntly declared to me in 1984 as he embarked on “Unto the Sons.” “I believe some of the density, some of the depth is lost if the writing is first person. When writers adopt the first person, often they have to stay with it, and they themselves become the focal point of the piece. I have preferred the third person because it allows me to go from person to person. I am like a director. I shift my own particular focus from one person to another; eventually I have a whole gallery of people I am writing about. I find I can then probe deeply into the people. Then I just shift. This is where my own subjectivity, or creativity, if you will, comes into play. I make the choice of where the camera is going to go. I decide whom I will focus on and the order of the focusing, too. This gives me a lot of options. It allows me to be creative and yet factual.”

Dialogue and quotation are used sparingly in Talese’s texts. “I tend to think writers overuse quotations,” he says. “In the first place, it is very hard, technically speaking, to achieve absolute accuracy. When, however, you accomplish this feat, you find people do not speak in complete sentences. If you are going to quote people directly, word for word, you will find they are not going to seem articulate. Almost without exception you can say it better if you do not have to stay within the quotes. Usually I also find I can say more in less space if I do not use direct quotation. I can convey the essence of what the person has said, tighten it and improve it in terms of language, without distorting meaning. When I was a reporter, I found that journalists would work very hard on the first paragraph, the lead of their stories, polishing it and making it clear. The second paragraph was usually an elaboration of what was said in the lead. The third paragraph, inevitably and sadly, was always a quotation, and that’s where the story got boring. The story got boring because the writer stopped writing. Reporters stopped using their skills. They fell into quotation, the easy way out.”

Talese’s own writing style is vastly detailed, formal and elaborate. He seldom uses contractions; indeed, he told me proudly, only one can be found in “Thy Neighbor’s Wife.” Among sports writers, Red Smith was his idol, and among reporters, the rarely remembered Timesman Gilbert Millstein, with his sophisticated, multi-claused leads. But Talese’s strongest influences were fiction writers, not journalists. Journalists wrote about famous people. It was the fiction writers who explored the drama of the ordinary person’s life. As a teen-ager, Talese adored the short stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Later he would write his nonfiction “Caddie: A Non-Alger Story” in homage to Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams.” Talese relished John O’Hara’s dialogue and Frank Yerby’s flamboyant prose, “long wonderful sentences and the color and passion he evoked.” Irwin Shaw’s 1951 novel, “The Troubled Air,” spurred Talese to begin writing what he called his “stories with real names.” Few realize Talese was crafting his first scenes in 1951 (as a 19-year-old college reporter at the University of Alabama) even before Lillian Ross published her revered “Picture” or Truman Capote his “Muses Are Heard.”

I have learned firsthand the art of hanging out, including the fine arts of patience and perseverance, from my own dealings with Gay Talese. In our second interview, during which he showed me the underground “bunker” he had just designed as a second workroom in his home, Talese told me of a proposal recently made to him by Philip Leininger, an editor of college textbooks for Harper & Row who played tennis at Talese’s club. Harper & Row had published Tom Wolfe’s “The New Journalism” to great success in 1973, and Leininger thought a similar anthology, edited by Talese and an English professor, might do equally well. Would I be interested in such a book, Talese inquired, and in joining him as co-editor?

Would I? Of course I would.

Gay named our anthology “The Literature of Reality,” and our manuscript was due December 1985, coincidentally the same month as “Unto the Sons.” Talese is famous for missing deadlines, for delivering only when ready, and 1985 passed with neither book completed. Harper & Row granted us an extension, but when 1986 faded with Talese still struggling with “Unto the Sons,” I stopped renewing the permission fees for our book’s selections, for with each renewal the fees went up.

December 1987 passed, then 1988 and 1989. Did I despair? At moments, yes, but I never doubted Talese would keep his word. The letters he wrote me during these years were filled with his despair, with his own doubts about his writing:

[“Unto the Sons”] becomes so upsetting and depressing, at times … (July 2, 1987)

I made a big botch of a chapter I was working on back in September sometime; I thought I was doing something quite good, and then, alas, it turns out that the chapter was the wrong material, in the wrong place, and wrongly done. I reluctantly began to dismantle the big mistaken structure; and slowly I have begun at the beginning, with a new approach. (November 7, 1987)

I have made many false starts, wrong turns, got lost a few times in the swamps of bad sentences and dim thinking. (November 19, 1987)

I am writing you on my birthday—a low day in a low period. Perhaps you’ll know me in the future when I’m not so down. (February 7, 1988)

Sometimes, Barbara, the depression is such that I just want to lie on the sofa and not get up. The schedule I dictate to myself is to just take a half-hour’s rest, but the depression sometimes is so strong that, when my half-hour is up, I just want to stay down longer and longer—and not even come out of the bunker. Very bad signs, I’d say. (March 11, 1988)

As to the subject of depression, which has so paralyzed me these last three months, I simply do not know what to do. …Since I’ve seen you, I have done many pages (perhaps 70 … ). The completion of each page is so long in arriving that I never achieve any momentum—I just sink under the weight of my wish for perfection, or my own limited attempt at a higher level of writing. I’m perhaps trying too hard. Or I’m simply so down on myself that I think nothing I do is any good—particularly if I do it without long suffering and stress. (March 26, 1988)

My plans this summer are day to day. I go off to the bunker every morning at 8 a.m., come up at 1 p.m.; do the exercise numbers you know about at Vertical or the tennis club; then back to bunkerland from 5 till 8:30—then, whoopee, Martini Time, sports fans. The same unchanging routine in the short, happy life of Gaetano Teleza. (May 22, 1988)

Throughout this book I feel, at times, that I’m writing in a foreign language. Writing really is not what I do easily. (December 5, 1988)

I do feel that the last few pages of the enclosed are “soft” and need sharp tones. (December 22, 1988)

The editor at Doubleday, Herman Gollob … wants to see how his investment is going. Frankly, I’m not thrilled at having to show him what I’ve so far done. Wish I could wait until I finish the final chapter, for it can be disruptive to get advice on what should be cut, what should be expanded, what should be edited out, etc., before you have gotten through the whole book. (February 16, 1989)

I saw the anti-depressant doctor (the famous Mortimer Ostow, $175 per 45 min.). After seeing me five times, I noticeably gladdened his spirit (at those rates, not surprisingly), while he did nothing for me that I can at this time reveal for the better or worse. He prescribed a drug—Prozac. It is supposed to give me a sunny outlook in three weeks or less. I have been taking it three weeks, with no sun in sight. It makes me sleepy. Such is my life! (June 18, 1989)

I feel like 73 going on 88. My father’s age—except he’s more youthful, more optimistic, more energetic than I am when doing this book. if I do 200 words a day, it’s a miracle! (March 20, 1990)

… my hands have been paralyzed as a result of some muscle problems (due, I have to believe, to over typing—one stretch of 12 hrs nonstop) and perhaps other matters. I had to take drugs of various kinds, and now I can type again but only after a morning of soaking my hands in very hot water. (May 29, 1990)

Enclosed the chapters I promised, up to Chap 42, which I’m working on now. Must finish by September. Think I can do it?. (August 13, 1990)

In February 1992, 300,000 hardcover copies of “Unto the Sons” were published. It was a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection, rode the best-seller lists for several weeks, and was pronounced, by some critics, a masterpiece.

In 1994 Talese and I delivered “Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Literature of Reality” to our extraordinarily patient publisher. Talese fulfilled his promise, as he always assured me he would.

However, I do not wish to leave the impression he is a paragon. I have heard him shout at family members, and he has certainly yelled at me. These infrequent bursts of anger are mitigated by his more frequent acts of unusual thoughtfulness and generosity—and by the fact that he always keeps in touch. Talese is a genuinely considerate male, a quality some might associate with his “soft” or feminine side. I once heard him call his father to recommend a television program; another time, when we were going through old scrapbooks, he put aside a photo he knew would please his wife, Nan. Talese makes it a rule never to turn down interviewers, for he remembers with gratitude the many sources who have sat for him. Waiters and taxi drivers also adore him, for he is an exorbitant tipper. This largesse is not Mafia inspired but rather reflects his regard for these important workers (doormen and barbers included) of whom he has so often written.

Talese, in truth, is an original. His “take” on any topic is unusual, for received wisdom never seems to reach him. Talese presses the boundaries of relationships, just as he presses the limits of writing, but he generally gives more than he gets, and he gives in extraordinary ways. Concerned about Bill Bonanno’s children, for example, he allocated the foreign sales for “Honor Thy Father” to educational trust funds for the four Bonanno children, as well as for his own daughters. One Bonanno son used his fund for medical school and is today a successful physician. In 1995 Talese gave me not one but three copies of “Virginia Woolf: A to Z,” a book written by the stepson of A.H. Rosenthal, Talese’s former boss at the Times. “I think he has managed to give us both a gift,” the stepson, Mark Hussey, wrote me.

My own Talese connection has placed me in the catbird’s seat for observing the rich and the celebrated. In May 1985 Talese and I were working on our book in Ocean City when a call came at 10 a.m. from Ted Koppel’s “Night Line.” Would Talese speak on “celebrity and the media” on that evening’s program?

Talese was reluctant. We were immersed in work.

“Night Line” would send a limousine to drive him to the ABC studios in Philadelphia. It would provide him with dinner beforehand at the Philadelphia restaurant of his choice.

Talese turned to me and asked if I would like to have dinner in Philadelphia and see a taping of “Night Line.” When I eagerly nodded, he agreed, with one requirement: that the limousine have a light so we could continue our work.

In the summer of 1994, he called to ask if I could tolerate a six-hour “diversion” from our scheduled work session. The comedian Bill Maher had asked Talese to appear on a special edition of “Politically Incorrect” as part of a New York comedy festival. Rather than Talese’s picking me up in Newark as planned for our work session in Ocean City, would I mind if a limousine from the comedy festival picked me up and brought me to New York for the show?

This sounded like a fascinating diversion to me. As Talese’s guest, I not only met Bill Maher but was invited backstage to the Green Room to meet the show’s other guests: comedian and actress Jeanine Garafolo (who swapped Italian stories with Talese), comedian and actor Richard Belzer of “Homicide” and “Law and Order: Special Victims’ Unit” fame (who was jittery and morose) and Dr. Wilbert Tatum, publisher of the Amsterdam News (who traded journalism mots with Gay). After the program, we were treated to dinner at Gino’s and then limousined to Ocean City.

What’s next for Gay Talese? What “stories with real names” remain to be told? Since 1992 Talese has been pursuing three separate subjects in his patented, patient fashion. He has been seeking good characters and waiting for compelling story lines to emerge. One side of him wishes to continue memoir writing, to press forward with the sequel to “Unto the Sons” (which ends in 1944, when he is only 12). “Unto the Sons II” would chronicle Talese’s subsequent life—and American culture—in the second half of the 20th century, including his college years at the segregated University of Alabama and his years with the New York Times and the Mafia. He could write of his nights at Sandstone and his days behind the wheel with Lee Iacocca in Detroit—all of this an American narrative never before told.

But privacy fences loom ominously and may prove insurmountable barriers to this story. Leading figures in this gallery of characters—including his wife and daughters—are very much alive. How much safer it would be to tell this story as fiction, he acknowledges.

While pausing at these doors of privacy, Talese has become engaged by a related subject. Duty and defiance are the conflicting poles of Talese’s psyche, and since 1992 he has been tempted to pursue yet another forbidden subject. This would be the defiant sequel to “Thy Neighbor’s Wife” he spoke of in our first interview in 1983—with all the potential for outraging reviewers yet again. Since 1992 Talese has conducted research into a still-sensitive sexual topic: male impotence, including the arenas of urology, penile implants and John and Lorena Bobbitt (the Virginia couple who gained instant fame when Lorena severed John’s penis). Talese covered the Bobbitt trials in 1993 and 1994, was invited to John Bobbitt’s Niagara Falls home, and has kept in touch with both Bobbitts over the years. At this very moment, he can tell the Bobbitts’ story in more human detail than has yet been told; however, he believes the American public does not wish to hear it. So he bides his time, looking for a way to tell the story in a larger context, as perhaps one small, emblematic tale in a book he may call “The Decline of Masculinity.” Part of Talese’s current writing dilemma is whether “The Decline of Masculinity” might actually be the subtitle and major theme of “Unto the Sons II.”

While these potentially eye-opening books are steeping, Talese has been dabbling with a gentler topic, a book saluting his parents’ congenial custom of restaurant dining. To this day Talese dines out as often as Henry James, at least four or five times a week. He finds escape in restaurants from the loneliness of his long-distance writing.

On October 25, 1999, I was only mildly surprised to receive a postcard from Talese from China. The quintessential chronicler of losers wrote this:

Dear Barbara:
“Hanging out” in Beijing. Trying to reach the Chinese soccer player whose missed penalty kick lost the World Cup for China at the Rose Bowl. Think it should be a good story.

About the Author

Barbara Lounsberry

Barbara Lounsberry's books include "The Art of Fact: Contemporary Artists of Nonfiction" (1992), "The Writer in You" (1994), "Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Literature of Reality" (co-edited with Gay Talese, 1996) and "The Tales We Tell: Perspective on the Short Story" (co-edited with Susan Lohafer, 1998).

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