Gay Talese and New Journalism

Gay Talese:  Well, I think it was Tom Wolfe who credited me with being a forefather in that business. I never- while he was flattering to me or trying to be, I never fully accepted it. I don’t think it was new and I don’t think it was journalism. What it was, what I’d like to pretend to think it is and can always be is defining reality in a way that’s verifiable and that’s also a storytelling technique. The storytellers have through our literature been mostly fiction writers and the fiction writers, that means a novelist or a short story writer or playwright or a filmmaker, are people who are defining visually or maybe through prose are defining privacy. They are writing about private life which is meaningful, which we all can identify with because the lives of those they’re writing about, like the women in my mother’s stores back in the ‘40s, are representative of an atmosphere, of a time. And the fiction writers, whether we’re talking about Mr. Tolstoy or Mr. Hemmingway or we’re talking about Joyce Carol Oates or Philip Roth, they’re writing about their time, but they are incorporating into their writing new names or changing the place, but it is also not so much so that we can’t say that’s really real. Like you can read great fiction and you get a sense of being there. What I wanted to do, what I aspired to be well, even when I was 25 and 30 years old was to write short stories or to write a book that seemed like it’s made up like a novel, full length, but don’t change the names and get to know the characters so well I didn’t have to invent the characters. I could use real names and real situations I could get from knowing, from hanging around, hanging around, the art of hanging around so long, so comfortably part of another person’s ambiance and personality and expectations that I could capture that, put it on paper and be sure to the degree that anything can be true, this was a true representation of the people I wrote about. And that might be called new journalism, but it really wasn’t new journalism. It wasn’t journalism, it was storytelling. And the only thing that made it different from ordinary storytelling, which is the province of the fiction writer, is it was not fiction. Now there are writers that violate this all the time.  I mean one of them like, you know, James Frey’s famous made-up memoir, exaggerated-- now he’s written a novel which is what he should be doing and hopefully will do again and again-- there are people that are great at writing- at making it up and we have to celebrate them, great writers. But there are people that can write very engagingly and descriptively and not make it up, but that takes a lot of time because in order to write knowingly about people, you have to spend time and you have to spend so much time that sometimes you feel you’ve lost your own sense of being a writer because you don’t publish. If you spent so much time on research, it could be three or four or five or six years in which you don’t even try to write, you’re getting to know your characters, you’re getting lost in the tribes of literary quest, and then you have to then think, “I’m not out there. I’m off the radar screen in terms of being known.” And that is a period that very much leads to depression sometimes. But I mean I am not saying that I’m not without depression. There are people- sometimes you think you will never get through this, you’ll never finish, you’ll never finish, you’ll never know enough, you’ll never be ready to write, and when you start writing, you’re never good enough, you’re not getting it right, this whole process. But I believe if you finally do get it done to the best of your ability, it is a worthy, worthy endeavor because you are getting a chunk of reality and you’re putting it in book form. And it could be read in 2008 or 2029 or, you know, whenever, 50 years from now. If it’s any good, it’s gonna hold up.

Gay Talese introduced storytelling to the practice of journalism.

The information arms race can’t be won, but we have to keep fighting

The tactics that work now won't work for long.

Politics & Current Affairs

Arms races happen when two sides of a conflict escalate in a series of ever-changing moves intended to outwit the opponent.

Keep reading Show less

10 excerpts from Marcus Aurelius' 'Meditations' to unlock your inner Stoic

Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.

(Getty Images)
Personal Growth
  • Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
  • Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
  • The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
Keep reading Show less

What if all humanity had to do to save itself was listen?

By working together, and learning from one another, we can build better systems.

Videos
  • Many of the things that we experience, are our imagination manifesting into this physical realm, avers artist Dustin Yellin.
  • People need to completely rethink the way they work together, and learn from one another, that they they can build better systems. If not, things may get "really dark" soon.
  • The first step to enabling cooperation is figuring out where the common ground is. Through this method, despite contrary beliefs, we may be able to find some degree of peace.