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Live chat: Jeff Sharlet and Leslie Jamison on literary journalism

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Editor’s note: At 3 p.m. today, we’ll host a live chat here on Storyboard with Jeff Sharlet and Leslie Jamison, on literary journalism. Don’t like that term “literary journalism?” Cool — let’s talk about it. Feel free to join in anytime with questions or comments (they’ll be moderated and will appear once the conversation begins), or to simply follow the conversation.

Our starting point: What constitutes literariness in journalism? What can a narrative journalist do to make a piece of work more artful — or should artfulness not be a concern? In a recent VQR piece about Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Sharlet wrote:

We can research and fact-check and interrogate every assumption, every mark of punctuation, but the words are not the things they stand for, only coded approximations. That’s what literary journalism is: an approximation. It’s not like a novel, it’s like nonfiction, only it hasn’t quite gotten there. It’s still trying.

On Twitter recently, Jamison and Sharlet had the following exchange:

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 1.32.50 PM

We’ll chat about genre, poetics, and more. Our guests:

Sharlet thumbSharlet is a contributing editor at Harper’s and Rolling Stone, and the best-selling author of the narrative nonfiction books The Family, Sweet Heaven When I Die, and C Street. He teaches at Dartmouth and founded the student literary journalism project 40 Towns. Don’t miss our Q-and-A with Sharlet about 40 Towns, which ran yesterday.


Leslie J thumbJamison is an essayist, novelist and Ph.D. candidate at Yale, at work on a dissertation about poverty and degradation in 20th century American writing. Her collection of essays, The Empathy Exams, will be published by Graywolf Press next year. Jamison and Elon Green recently annotated her piece “Fog Count,” from The Oxford American, for our Annotation Tuesday! series.



  1. posted July 24, 2013 at 10:38 am | permalink

    Do you consider the form: longform, to include serial multimedia nonfiction storytelling?

  2. Elon
    posted July 24, 2013 at 1:26 pm | permalink

    Seems to me that literary journalism, such as it is, is simply keen observation. Whether it’s Talese’s disclosure that Sinatra gave away “$50,000 worth of gold cigarette lighters” — neither the dollar amount nor the lighter color is vague — or LJ’s noting the prison commissary sales list (“You could get Strawberry Shampoo or something called Magic Grow or something else called Lusti Coconut Oil”).

    There’s poetry in the specifics. Thoughts?

2 trackbacks

  1. [...] If you enjoyed our recent live chat with Jeff Sharlet and Leslie Jamison on the state of literary journalism, check out Jamison’s [...]

  2. [...] Stone and Harper’s, and a professor at Dartmouth. You can find him elsewhere on Storyboard in livechat conversation with essayist Leslie Jamison, about literary nonfiction, and annotating, with Elon Green, “Inside the Iron Closet,” his [...]

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