What is the difference between literature and journalism? Journalism is unreadable, and literature is not read. – Oscar Wilde, “The Critic as Artist” (1891) In what was one of the noisiest periods for literary output in the United States, fiction and nonfiction converged, poetry experienced a revival of surrealism and performance, while more ethnic and female voices emerged, all reflecting the turbulence of the 1970s. The poet John Ashbery characterized his work in this era (and by extension that of others) as “an individual consciousness confronting or confronted by a world of external phenomena.” This line captures a transformational time when dramatic developments in American society bumped into or collided with the desire of writers and journalists to capture them in bold fashion that went beyond the conventional tools and platforms of their crafts. While the expansive range of literature – fiction and nonfiction over an entire decade – is beyond the scope of this chapter and the capacity of this writer, I will focus on several seminal developments, drawing on scholarship and experience, informed by observation and personal contact with some of the leading writers and editors of the decade. Much of what we knew about the 1970s then and know now was driven by a concern with explosive social movements and dramatic events as well as the celebrity culture that the literary and journalistic artists of that time embraced and promoted. All writers define their worlds in personal terms, in memories and experiences of individual discovery. My awareness of the commingling standards and styles of the literary-journalistic activity of the period between 1970 and 1979 came from living in it and from having an especially self-conscious and purposeful view of writers and writing. For me, this happened first as a graduate student and then as teacher immersed in popular fiction and nonfiction. My interest and that of others who became keen observers of this literary-journalistic field was framed against the backdrop of American literature, especially those works taught in college English classes or appearing on the New York Times bestseller list. Yet, it was not such a stretch to see that amid the traditional titles published, something new was in the air, both in the output of publishers and in newspaper feature writing and magazine articles.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Arts and Humanities(all)