|Vol. 17, No. 6||Oct. 9, 1997|
It's been called the world's most readable textbook. Dan Rather read it and judged it a "work full of pleasure to the reader." Entertainment Weekly called it "irresistible."
It's The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism by Kevin Kerrane of Newark, and Ben Yagoda of Swarthmore, Pa., both English. Published by Scribner, the anthology includes some of the great works of literary nonfiction.
In need of a book suitable to assign to their journalism students, and tired of securing the rights to reproduce the classics of the genre each semester, Kerrane and Yagoda culled through articles and book excerpts to assemble this collection of 58 journalistic gems.
The book includes an array of articles, from social observations to war correspondence, reprinted from a number of sources: magazines, newspapers and books. The writers included in the collection all "make facts dance," Kerrane said.
Included are such memorable pieces as Jack London's daring 1902 expose of life among the city of London's impoverished East Enders and Lillian Ross' devastating portrait of Ernest Hemingway.
"The far flung and irresistible collection includes Stephen Crane on life among New York City derelicts; Joan Didion on L.A. when the lethal Santa Ana wind blows; Rosemary Mahoney on venturing into a lesbian bar in Dublin.... It even lets you know what sparring with Joe Louis was like (Jimmy Cannon on Billy Conn), but then the whole book is "full of nonfiction knockouts," a reviewer for Entertainment Weekly said.
Writing the book was great fun, "like eating salted peanuts," Yagoda said. "We got to review great pieces of writing and talk with many of the authors. It took about a year and a half to secure the rights to all the pieces, and the authors who controlled their own rights were extremely generous and supportive."
Now, many professional journalists who have read the book are lending their support.
"It's very pleasing to have journalists themselves like the book," Kerrane said. "It's a dream to have it so well received."
Loosely defined, literary journalism is journalism that tells a story, using journalistic techniques, Kerrane said. "It's exciting and readable, it may use dialogue and characterization more than the predictable journalistic formulas."
"It's writing that's accurate, timely and for which one has had to gather and report facts," Yagoda added. "It's imparting information in a way that is creative, innovative and artful. It includes nonfiction novels and narratives like Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.
"It also is journalism in which the author becomes part of the story-not journalism that follows the common rule of the journalist staying completely out of the story," Yagoda said.
The forerunner of Kerrane and Yagoda's book is Thomas Wolfe's 1973 anthology, The New Journalism. Regarded as among the first collections of its kind, that book was used by both professors in their classes until it went out of print.
But, where Wolfe's anthology emphasized works from the second half of the 20th century, Kerrane and Yagoda include "the pioneers"-genre writers from the early 18th century such as Daniel Defoe.
Other sections of the book are "Telling Tales," "The Reporter Takes the Stage" and "Style as Substance."
"The Art of Fact [is] a work full of pleasure to the reader-and some degree of shame to the reporter. On how many working days does one come close to writing so well?" Dan Rather asked after reading the book. "On every page I find something to fill me with admiration-and envy."
"Teachers who care about writing should assign this thick, wonderful book in their classrooms, not only because it will make their teaching more effective, but in order to put it on their students' shelves for future instruction and inspiration. Journalists who care about writing should keep this thick, wonderful book on their night stands, not to read before they go to bed at night, but to read in the morning, before they go to the office to do the work that pays their bills," Mike Peterson wrote in the Plattsburgh Press-Republican.
Kerrane received his master's and doctoral degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He joined the University of Delaware in 1967. This summer he published Batting Cleanup, Bill Conlin, a collection of columns by the Philadelphia sports writer.
Kerrane's other works include, The Hurlers, Dollar Sign on the Muscle: The World of Baseball Scouting, Baseball Diamonds: Tales, Traces, Visions and Voodoo, Classical Medieval Literary Criticism: Transitions and Interpretations, The Art of Drama and The Art of Modern Drama. He has written on baseball for the popular press in such publications as Sports Illustrated and is the author of numerous scholarly works.
A graduate of Yale University with a master's degree in American civilization from the University of Pennsylvania, Yagoda has a background in journalism as a reporter, movie critic and editor. A freelance writer, he has contributed feature articles to such magazines as The New York Times Magazine and Esquire. He has written a successful biography of Will Rogers, and he has co-authored a series of books with Ruth Westheimer, better known as Dr. Ruth. Their latest collaboration is The Value of Family: A Blueprint for the 21st Century.
-Beth Thomas and Noel Munier
Photo by Robert Cohen
Local authors Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda will discuss their new book, The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism, during a panel discussion with local journalists on Tuesday, Oct. 14. The event is free and open to the public.
Special guest will be David Simon, writer and producer of the popular television series, Homicide, whose work is included in The Art of Fact.
Simon is the award-winning author of Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which is the basis for the television show. His new book, The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, looks at teenagers and the lost drug war in Baltimore. He will read excerpts from his new book during his UD appearance.
The Oct. 14 event will be held in the Rodney Room of the Perkins Student Center, Academy Street, Newark. It begins with refreshments at 3:30 p.m. The panel discussion will begin at 3:45 p.m. Signings for The Art of Fact and The Corner will begin at 4:30 p.m.
For more information, call 831-1974.