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Literary Journalism: A few thoughts on how to proceed, Part One

September 18, 2014

I’d like to take a course in the writing of Literary Journalism, a field to which I have been aspiring the whole time of the writing of my Tom Crean books. That is, since 1995. I’m not actually taking the course, but I have great respect for Ken McGoogan, the teacher of this course, and The Art of Fact: a Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism even more for the book that is the text for it, edited by Kevin Kerrand and Ben Yagoda.

I haven’t owned the book for an hour. I opened it to the first page that split (pg. 64) and commenced reading where my eyes fell. And could not stop reading. The piece is “An Experiment in Misery” (published 1893) by Stephen Crane, about a couple of seedy characters in search of a boarding house for the night, and later a bite to eat, in a rundown part of Brooklyn. Each sentence, each paragraph is a wonder of description to which I can aspire but never hope to attain. The key here, that we should all take not of is: “could not stop reading.” If you have accomplished that, your goal as a writer has been met.

I got as far as this passage on page 69, when I was moved to write this post:

“The young man saw the dark entrance of a basement restaurant. There was a sign which read, ‘No mystery about our hash,’ and there were other age stained and world battered legends which told him that the place was within his means. He stopped before it and spoke to the assassin. ‘I guest I’ll git somethin’ t’eat.”

The entire scene, the nature of the two characters, the neighborhood through which they pass—-that is, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that stands-in for the world they inhabit, and that inhabits them—-is painted so large and true, with such a few strokes of the writer’s brush. Now, for me, back to Crane’s story, to find out what happens next.

* * *

This, by the way, is not apropos of the launch at Florey’s in Pacifica CA of my new book Rough Weather All Day: An Account of the “Jeannette” Search Expedition by Patrick Cahill. Said launch happens Saturday September 20 at Florey’s, 3:00-5:00. Patrick Cahill’s words, here transcribed, speak for themselves, with the honesty of a daily account of exploration, shipwreck, and survival that needs no further embellishment.

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