The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable, and literature is not read.
– Oscar Wilde (1891)
This course lies at the crossroads of journalism and literature. During the next 15 weeks we will explore the journalistic, historical and critical tangents that make up the notion of literary journalism as we read and analyze some of the best reportage ever written. In the process of reading the works of many fine journalists, we will weigh how form and content work together to create great factual literature.
This course will look back as far as the 18th century at some of the literary antecedents to what Tom Wolfe – and others before and after him – have called the "New Journalism." We will then read and analyze the works of many different literary journalists and commentators on literary journalism from the 19th century to our present day.
If nothing else, I hope this course will disabuse you of Mr. Wilde's notion that journalism is unreadable. I know from my own experience – even as a former English Lit major – that these days I am more wont to read nonfiction than fiction. In fact, I know of one scholar who has noted that the New York Review of Books offers three reviews of nonfiction to every one review of fiction. Certainly, not all of that nonfiction would be classified as literary journalism, but this does show you that fact–based journalism is the 600–pound gorilla of genres.
What we are interested in here is content – namely the writing of nonfiction using the techniques of the fictionists – a radical – and, some would say, an ill-conceived departure from journalistic norms.
This course has a six-pronged approach. It is a smorgasbord of delectables – all, or any one of which, I hope, you will find tasty. We will explore:
- Literary journalism's historical antecedents – or should we say founders?
- Literary journalism's future in the age of the connected computer.
- The criticism literary journalism has received from friend and foe alike.
- The theory behind this genre.
- The techniques that comprise and define this genre.
- Ways of toppling the inverted pyramid in developing our own individual writing styles using the techniques of literary journalism.
Everything we do in this course – the readings, my minimal lecture, your maximal discussion, the analysis and the writing – are intended to give you a historical perspective of journalism in general and its importance in society – especially as an armature for democracy, and especially literary journalism's ability to connect the multiple subjectivities in a multifarious society.
So, how will we do this? The answer is simple, the doing is difficult.
By reading and writing and reading and writing. For more, if you agree to accept this mission, read on.