What’s the Story #39


There’s a lot of handwringing, recently, about how tough the publishing industry has become, how much change there is—which, of course, there is, though I suspect we’re romanticizing “the good old days.” As far as writers and editors are concerned, there’s as much mystery and frustration as ever. But there is one thing I miss: the author as a personality.

When “The New Journalism” or the “nonfiction novel” began to supplant fiction as the reigning force in literature, readers did not just buy a book; rather, they often bought an author, as well—a personality. Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe, George Plimpton … all brilliant writers, of course.

But for me and for many of my contemporaries, literary wannabes who came of age and began our careers in the 1970s, the writers themselves were nearly as inspiring as their writing. They represented passion and dedication—and a lifestyle, a way of conducting oneself as a literary leader.

In this issue, we look back at two such writers, Norman Mailer and Gay Talese, both pioneers in this genre we now call creative nonfiction.

Norman Mailer, as a writer and a person, was no phony. He took on serious issues and stuck to his beliefs, and he was “out there,” a gruff protestor and brawler ready to take on all comers—most often with his intellect, but also with his fists, if necessary.

Gay Talese was “out there” in a different (but equally fascinating) way. Talese calls his reporting style “the art of hanging out,” and he hangs out in handmade Italian suits, preferably linen and silk, and ascots, “collecting,” explains Michael Rosenwald, whose forthcoming anthology of Talese’s sports writing is excerpted in this issue, “precise details that make up the extraordinarily textured scenes.”
If you’re a fan of creative nonfiction, you’re likely familiar with both Talese and Mailer—and if you’re not, I hope this issue will inspire you to track them down. They helped make the genre of creative nonfiction what it is today.

But we’re not here just to celebrate the good old days. A primary mission of this magazine is to introduce new writers and inspire them to keep writing, and to help them make their own impact as literary figures. In this issue, we’re very pleased to introduce many writers being published for the very first time: Rachael Button, John Gilmore, Greta Schuler and John Nosco. Other writers whose work is included here—Jim Kennedy, Jerald Walker—are at the beginning of their careers. I think you’ll be hearing more from all of them.
Gilmore, by the way, was the winner of the 2009 Norman Mailer College Nonfiction Writing Award. Interestingly, just like Gary Gilmore—the subject of Norman Mailer’s “The Executioner’s Song,” an excerpt of which is part of this issue’s Encounter with Mailer—he was born and raised in Utah, where Gilmore (Gary, not John) committed his murders and was subsequently executed.

John Gilmore insists that he is unrelated to the notorious killer whose surname he shares. And even though that connection and his award stretch the range of coincidence a bit, we don’t doubt these facts for an instant, no matter how “convenient” they might be. Because, you know, this is creative nonfiction—and you can’t make this stuff up.

About the Author

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Lee Gutkind

Lee Gutkind is the author and editor of more than thirty books, including You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between, Almost Human: Making Robots Think, The Best Seat in Baseball: But You Have to Stand, Forever Fat: Essays by the Godfather, and the award-winning, Many Sleepless Nights: The World of Organ Transplantation.

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