Private: What of the New Journalism?

In the past few weeks I’ve posted links to a few articles that debate the importance of truth in memoir.

I haven’t gotten around to posting a link to this Salon piece about Vivian Gornick‘s admission that she fictionalized portions of her memoir, Fierce Attachments:

Gornick admitted she had “composed” some of the walks and conversations with her mother in the memoir, and had also invented a scene that involved a street person and her mother. She said this matter-of-factly, and said she considered memoir to be in the genre of “personal narrative,” not journalism.

But just a few minutes later, Gornick said she’d also used composite characters for some of her pieces that ran in the Village Voice. She gave two examples — conversations at a dinner party in New York, and a man who lived in a high rise and robbed stores at night.

I read the memoir for a class several semesters ago and wasn’t terribly impressed with it as a narrative. I liked the class, though, and keep in touch with the professor. So when I happened across the Salon article last Friday, I passed it along.

The professor’s response: “Does this make her a bad person, or just a bad journalist? Is the license we apply to The New Journalism (Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson) now expired?”

This is a fine question, and one that doesn’t seem likely to go away soon, especially given the controversies surrounding Jayson Blair and other journalists who have admitted to fabricating sources and stories. Today Howard Kurtz (at the Washington Post) mentions the Gornick revelation. (Via Moorish Girl.)