J4900 … Gay Talese on the craft of writing

Justice B. Hill

Let’s just get it out of the way upfront: Gay Talese is not a sportswriter in its true sense.

There, that thought is behind us; we’ve dispensed with this trifle, which does not disqualify Talese from appearing on a sports site like this one. Should it?

Please, don’t be silly! Talese, 79, is one of the nonfiction icons of the past century. With books like Honor Thy Father, Thy Neighbor’s Wife and The Silent Season of a Hero,  he has contributed more to the genre than almost any other writer of our time. All of us who value great writing have benefited from reading Talese’s prose.

Talese’s Esquire article “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” which has been featured here earlier, is often called the finest magazine piece ever written. It’s hard to quarrel with that description of the piece. All the ingredients of stylish nonfiction are found in this work: description, detail, dialogue, drama …

In this podcast, Talese discusses the reporting he did on a 2010 piece for The New Yorker on soprano Marina Poplavskaya: click here for access to the podcast:

Pay attention to how Talese talks about the reporting side of the writing process. He discounts the value of recording an interview (he never does), and he explains why he doesn’t. He also expresses a dislike of using other technological advances. Hell, the man doesn’t carry a cell phone! Is that because Talese is too old school to embrace the present?

Perhaps so, but does that really matter? Has his clinging to yesteryear and his disdain for today affected clarity of Talese’s prose? Not one bit.

While we might not agree (and I don’t) with everything Talese, a former New York Times reporter, says in this podcast, the man certainly offers insights into how to practice nonfiction at the highest level.

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