The Dean of Literary Journalism, Malcolm Gladwell, has a piece in the latest New Yorker, Starting Over, that explores what happened to families and individuals who were forced to leave New Orleans after Katrina. We just observed the tenth anniversary of that awful storm, and the story contains some surprising observations.
This is some of the research on which Gladwell built his article. David S. Kirk, then of the University of Texas at Austin, wanted to answer the question: “What effect does where you live have on how you turn out?” and — sadly — the mass exodus forced on mostly poor and mostly black residents of New Orleans was a perfect laboratory. What he found among prisoners who were formerly from the Big Easy?
Those who went home had a recidivism rate of sixty per cent. Those who couldn’t go home had a rate of forty-five per cent. They moved away. Their lives got better.
Read Gladwell’s piece. It’s awesome. I intend to revisit it in another venue: The effect of low-resource neighborhoods on those neighborhoods’ inhabitants.
The Dean of Literary Journalism???
No? Who is, then?
If literary journalism is defined as a form of nonfiction that combines factual reporting with some of the narrative techniques and stylistic strategies traditionally associated with fiction, requiring an immersion in complex, difficult subjects where a distinctive and unique voice is developed by the author…today…I would say Coates.
Joan Didion is probably the best choice, though. Her work defines American literary journalism.
Take your pick.
Gladwell is nowhere near the style pioneered by the likes of Orwell, Crane, Hersey, London…….
He’s a shill for special interests. No closer to literary journalism than advertising copy.
My apologies. I was trying to answer this on my phone, unapproved it, and then couldn’t approve it again. I disagree that Gladwell is a shill, and I am not a fan of either McPhee or Didion, though I know this places me outside the general population that follows these things. No argument on Kidder. He’s wonderful, and certainly no argument on Coates.
I knew we would disagree on Gladwell. We have before. His support for the tobacco lobby, AHIP/market-based healthcare, and union busting is what has soured me on his career. But still, his ideologies aside, his command of the craft leaves much to be desired, in my opinion.
Didion I find to be a tough read more often than not, but still a major influence on the style that has transcended the written format into motion pictures/video/documentary.
McPhee is the best know educator connected to literary journalism. His influence is evident just about everywhere one looks in The Fourth Estate.
Kidder is…well…amazing. Like Coates. A seemingly effortless and accessible style that captivates. Making what is true believable…emphasis on the “true”………
So we can both attend the churches of Kidder and Coates, and still be friends. I think “The Year of Magical Thinking” is probably among the best writing I’ve ever read, but I also got the sense from Didion — and probably won’t read the new biography out on her — that she was too cool for me. McPhee, I was forced to read at knife point in journalism school (“Oranges”), so my distaste for his work is probably rooted in that, pure-D cussedness. You can’t make ME learn.
You’re certainly not alone in your opinion of Didion. The “too cool” thing? I get that.
I get the thing about McPhee, too. But…didn’t we see a bit of his influence in Dating Jesus? Maybe? Just a bit?
Coates, I think, is the heir apparent of that style. I don’t know when I’ll be able to get to his new book…still struggling through the John Rawls thing when my eye will allow it…but I want to. Some people have likened it to Baldwin…which has pissed off some other people…
It’s in my Kindle, waiting to be read. I have friends who weren’t thrilled with it, but I going to read it because, well, I love him. If you saw influence of McPhee in Dating Jesus, then it was inadvertent. I simply haven’t the patience for that slow pace of writing (McPhee’s).
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