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Literary Journalism Without Exception: Reading and Writing Journalism as Literature Around the World

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Organizer: Robert Alexander

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The tributes following the death of Tom Wolfe in May, 2018 offered a stirring reminder of the impact of this American author’s work on the field of literary journalism. With books like The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff and others, Wolfe lit up the genre like a Mercury rocket on the launch pad. And while the work of he and others in his landmark 1973 anthology The New Journalism did not exactly “wipe out the novel as literature’s main event” as Wolfe’s introduction predicted, it did, without a doubt, put a string of 150-watt exclamation marks beside the genre in the literary imagination of the 1970s and beyond. At the same time, though, the vaunted brilliancy of the “newness” of this type of writing, embodied in Wolfe’s claim that “very few literary artists ever wrote narrative journalism,” represented a narrow and, indeed, exceptionalist view: around the world, writers had long been infusing their journalistic accounts with narrative techniques derived from fiction and doing so, moreover, out of the explicit orbit of American influence and rather within the contexts of their own national literary and journalistic traditions. As one prominent critic of the genre has noted, “The United States does not have a monopoly on literary journalism.” Whether known as New Journalism, reportages, crónicas, nuevo periodismo, Jornalismo Literário, el periodisimo literario, or Bao Gao Wen Xue, works by writers such as Elizabeth Wynhausen (Australia), Albert Londres (France), Gabriela Wiener (Peru /Spain), Egon Erwin Kisch (Austria/ Czechoslovakia), Ryszard Kapuściński (Poland), Helge Timmerberg (Germany), Stella Braam (Netherlands), Jonny Steinberg (South Africa), José Luis Peixoto (Portugal), Xie Bingying (China) and many others, confirm the fact declared in the 2008 Manifesto of the French “mook” (a magazine- book hybrid) XXI: “another kind of journalism is possible.” This seminar seeks, then, to contribute to the growing understanding of literary journalism as a global phenomenon by investigating from a comparative perspective the many writer, works, contexts, histories, features, and futures it embraces.

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