- Literature and Journalism: Inspirations, Intersections, and Inventions from Ben Franklin to Stephen Colbert ed. by Mark Canada
The ambitious title of this modest book promises more than it actually delivers. Nine accomplished scholars have contributed nine different essays that cover only a small range of this vast, fascinating topic. Ben Franklin and Stephen Colbert are worthy bookends, but what is in between is hardly representative since five of the nine chapters focus on writers of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.
Rather than a synthesis that spans some three centuries, this collection offers interesting and worthwhile explorations of disparate aspects of the subject. But the individual essays are just that—the atomistic products of individuals working in little apparent relation to one another. The result is a jumble of perspectives, purposes, topics, and themes. While this lack of cohesion is disappointing, each essay is certainly valuable in itself. In these pages readers will still find gold—more or less, depending on the intersection of their own interests with the range of topics covered.
The introductory essay by Mark Canada offers “A Brief History of Literature and Journalism in the United States.” Canada, author of the well-received Literature and Journalism in Antebellum America: Thoreau, Stowe, and Their Contemporaries Respond to the Rise of the Commercial Press (2011), conceptualizes four eras in the development of this relationship: “Colonial Coexistence” (journalism and literature existing alongside each other in eighteenth-century American newspapers); “Antebellum Rivalry” (the penny press era, when “journalism moved from being an intimate companion of literature to an uppity younger sibling, whose new power and different values threatened the appeal and sway of literature with American readers”); “Postbellum Apprenticeships” (the late nineteenth century, when journalism continued to thrive and offered a valuable apprenticeship to many young writers who went on to write literary fiction, such as Crane, Whitman, and Dreiser); and “Modern Hybrids” (such as the New Journalists Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe, et al. in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as today’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert). Inexplicably, however, the post-New Journalists of the 1980s, 1990s, and beyond (like, for example, Susan Orlean, Tracy Kidder, and Adrian Nicole LeBlanc) are omitted from this chronology. [End Page 206]
Another gap in the introductory essay is its literature review’s omission of several of the key works in literary journalism scholarship. Any study of the intersections between journalism and literature is incomplete without consideration of such works as Thomas B. Connery’s A Sourcebook of American Literary Journalism: Representative Writers in an Emerging Genre (1992) and Journalism and Realism: Rendering American Life (2011), John C. Hartsock’s A History of American Literary Journalism (2001), and Norman Sims’s True Stories: A Century of Literary Journalism (2008).
One of the book’s most original chapters is Karen Roggenkamp’s study of Elizabeth Garver Jordan, a journalist, editor, and author whose “True Stories of the News,” published in the New York World in 1890–91, and newspaper fiction together illuminate the interface between literature and journalism in the late nineteenth century. Roggenkamp’s earlier book, Narrating the News: New Journalism and Literary Journalism in Nineteenth-Century American Newspapers and Fiction (2005), is a landmark study about the impact of literature on journalism. Here she demonstrates how reporters borrowed from established literary genres such as the historical romance and the detective story to craft their journalism. Now her study of Jordan moves this scholarship in a fresh direction, analyzing how reporters’ short stories about their practice of journalism shed light on “truth-telling” in both journalism and literature at the turn into the twentieth century.
Another gem is Andie Tucher’s study of the late nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century practice of “faking,” whereby journalists embellished their stories in a way that violated strict factuality in order to provide, ironically, a more “truthful” or “true-to-life” account. She argues convincingly in “The True, the False, and the ‘Not Exactly Lying’: Making Fakes and Telling Stories in the Age of the Real...