"Proper Names Are Poetry in the Raw": Character Formation in Traumatic Nonfiction

By Dan Lehman

August 28, 2013

“Proper names are poetry in the raw. Like all poetry they are untranslatable.”
–W. H. Auden from A Certain World: A Commonplace Book, 1970

As literary nonfiction has shouldered its way into the longstanding generic trinity of fiction, poetry, and drama, writers and theorists have argued about what sorts of allegedly truthful narratives quality as nonfiction. Last year, these intermittent squabbles about classification broke into open war with the publication of The Lifespan of a Fact, in which essayist John D’Agata, a professor in the University of Iowa nonfiction writing program, sparred with an exacting fact-checker named Jim Fingal, who was probing the facticity of D’Agata’s essay about teenager Levi Presley’s suicidal plunge from the observation deck of the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas. Their debate ranged from the mundane to the vital. For example, D’Agata admitted that he changed the color of a pink dog-grooming van to purple, explaining, “I needed the two beats of purple, so I changed the color. I don’t think it’s that big a deal” (39). More seriously, D’Agata conceded that he altered the actual suicide of an unrelated Las Vegas victim from jumping to hanging “because I wanted Levi’s death to be the only one from falling that day. I wanted his death to be more unique” (18). Ultimately, Fingal proved that many of the surreal events that D’Agata said happened the day that Levi Presley died did not, in fact, happen at all—or at least not the way that D’Agata had essayed.

Challenged on these points, the Iowa nonfiction professor protested: “I’m tired of this genre being terrorized by an unsophisticated reading public that’s afraid of accidentally venturing into terrain that can’t be footnoted and verified by seventeen different sources” (22). An exasperated Fingal was moved to respond: “Basically it sounds like you’re saying that an essayist can write things with arbitrary truth value and make quotations out of whole cloth that are attributed to real people in the real world. Is that right? And if so, isn’t that what people call fiction?” (53). And so the debate was on. One New York Times review called D’Agata “a fight-spoiling dodobrain” and added, “[J]ust trying to sneak and bully his work into magazines is a disingenuous strategy; it borrows the prestige of a credibility he forsakes” (Lewis-Kraus). Another charged that D’Agata “shimmies too close to the flame. In pursuing his moral questions, he plays fast and loose with a verifiable historical date, one involving a kid’s suicide. He does this just for the sake of a tight narrative hook. . . . [I]t damages the moral authority of D’Agata’s voice, which is his narrative’s main engine” (Bock).

Perhaps the most perceptive response came from Salon.com’s senior writer Laura Miller, who argued that D’Agata’s and Fingal’s set-to in The Lifespan of a Fact “is a travesty of the fact-checking process.” She noted: “Any lingering impression that Fingal is a put-upon toiler in the boiler room of journalism dissolves as he introduces more and more tedious digressions and unfunny wisecracks into an ever-burgeoning pissing match.” In fact, D’Agata and Fingal had staged and embellished much of the argument that became The Lifespan of a Fact, disclosing as much in an interview with Weston Cutter on his Kenyon Review blog. D’Agata called the book-long debate over the facts of Levi Presley’s death “a bit of a reconstructed performance” while Fingal revealed that his six months of part-time fact-checking were inflated in the book to an increasingly obsessive seven-year debate with D’Agata. Yet, to his credit, D’Agata seemed to understand that their discourse—even if substantially staged—did foreground some essential peculiarities about what we commonly call creative nonfiction, literary essays, or narrative journalism. By whatever name, this form of nonfiction is intertwined with the characters, events, and memories that precede the written text. Uncovering the deep relationship between sources and texts—particularly when real names are used—explodes more formalist notions of writing style. “[A]s embarrassed as I was by what Jim had revealed, I was dazzled by his thoroughness,” D’Agata told Cutter. “He was as obsessed with nailing down the facts of the essay as I was with the rhythm and imagery and what-not.”

Beyond those sorts of insights, the entire discourse—which threatened to devolve into a post-structural inside joke and ultimately created its fifteen minutes of buzz in the literary universe—did seem to confirm some of its critics’ worst fears. And to think that you, oh dear reader, were moved by the spat, that you ever believed it actually concerned the tragic facts of a sixteen-year-old’s life and how to write truthfully about such a loss.

On this occasion, I want to rekindle our desire for the complex truth of a written life.
To do so, I wish to refocus our attention to what I believe matters about nonfiction, particularly nonfiction about trauma. I would never argue that facts don’t matter in nonfiction (I’m as offended as anyone by people who make things up and pass it off as truth). Yet I hope to prove that what really counts is the tangible human presence outside the text that competes with the nonfiction character inside the text.

Technical arguments about what can or cannot be done in nonfiction hit dead ends because they normally are obsessed by the taxonomy of narrative rather than by its power. Therefore, ostensibly nonfictional texts about private events, especially when names are altered or obscured, turn out to be largely indistinguishable from fiction. The genre distinction in these cases depends mostly on the author’s goodwill promise to live up to some standard of factualness. So when “facts” inside the nominally nonfiction text cast little or no shadow on the world outside the text, the traditional generic boundary largely becomes a distinction without a difference. What really counts, I would argue, is not a safe realm of generic certainty, but the dead reckoning of nonfiction’s potential ability to affect actual lives. And much of that power derives from what W. H. Auden has called, in another context, the raw poetry of a name. Precisely because real names leak over the edge of text in nonfiction, their enactment eludes the final control of author, character, or reader. Three texts—Richard Hoffman’s memoir Half the House (2005), Terri Jentz’s testimonial investigation Strange Piece of Paradise (2006), and Eli Sanders’s “The Bravest Woman in Seattle,” a harrowing piece of literary journalism that won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize—will help me reveal in varying ways how names and naming matter, particularly in testimonial nonfiction about memory and trauma.

Hoffman sets the stage for our discussion in an author’s note heading his memoir Half the House. “This is not a work of fiction,” he writes. “It contains no composite characters, no invented scenes. I have, in most instances, altered the names of persons outside my family. In one instance, on principle, I have not” (emphasis added). The unaltered name is that of Tom Feifel, Hoffman’s sandlot football and baseball coach in Allentown, PA. Hoffman’s book reveals that Coach Feifel molested and raped the then ten-year-old Hoffman, luring him with pornographic slides and 8 mm movies. “I wanted to cry but I didn’t dare,” the author recalls of one episode. “I bent over with my arms folded over my belly, pretending to watch the ballgame. Why was I unable to understand what was going on? The more I learned, the more confused and ashamed I became” (53). What the ten-year-old learns is that “sex was sinister, clandestine, hot, and universal. I may have even known that my childhood was over” (53-54). Much later in the memoir, a now-adult Hoffman confronts his own father over physical abuse (being punished by his dad with a belt or slotted spatula) as well as the father’s failure to protect him from the coach/predator Tom Feifel. In this written scene, Hoffman’s father looks away, “his mouth hanging open, tears rolling down his face.” Hoffman presses on: “I have more to say, Dad. I didn’t come here to hurt you. Thirty years ago I stopped telling you the truth. I couldn’t. Now I have to, and it hurts like hell, but I have to tell it and you have to listen” (111-112).

What follows is an astonishing interchange about “what happens to a little boy’s soul” (119) when he is raped by a man like Tom Feifel. The son’s anger and the father’s culpability emerge truthfully and unflinchingly within a painful discourse of fact and implication that reveals the insufficiency D’Agata’s and Fingal’s staged dialogue to get at the real power and dangers of truth-telling. To the narrative taxonomists, I would proffer that it may not really matter so much if Hoffman recounts each and every word of this long-ago confrontation, but that he and his father are alive, named, on the record, and that the criminal presence of the accurately labeled Tom Feifel hovers over them like an oily cloud. Facts are adduced, names are named, and responsibility is pinned and accepted.

Ultimately, the book’s publication with Feifel’s name set off a chain of events spurred by Hoffman’s father, who made sure that someone associated with the youth organization where Feifel was now coaching saw the book and sought out the families of vulnerable lads. “It was the decision, on principle, not to change the name Tom Feifel that proved to be fateful,” Hoffman writes in an afterward to a new edition of the book. “There was simply no reason to protect him. I did not foresee anything like what happened” (180). What happened is that more and more boys and families came forward; this time the law stopped winking at Feifel (as had twice happened in earlier decades), and he was prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned. Feifel died in prison a day after a Dateline NBC report about the case. “The death certificate says heart failure” (195), though Hoffman has his doubts.

The lasting power of Hoffman’s testimonial memoir—as elegantly written and shaped as any modern novel—astonishes even its author. “No one, however, taught me more about the power of the written word than an 11-year-old boy named Michael,” he writes in his afterward. “He was one of four boys selected by the district attorney from among many more to testify against Feifel” (189). After Feifel’s conviction, Hoffman telephoned the youngster, essentially a doppelgänger of the boy Hoffman had been when Feifel had attacked him. Michael tells the memoirist: “I mean thanks for, you know, for writing the book. You made it stop” (190).

Testimonial nonfiction, therefore, not only reflects but may directly alter history precisely because of the power of nonfictional identity and naming to leak outside the written text, as it did with Tom Feifel’s name. A second example, Terri Jentz’s Strange Piece of Paradise, illustrates an opposite flow: the power of extra-textual discourse to overwhelm an author’s management of names and identity within her narrative. Anchored by far more detailed fact-gathering and reporting than is Hoffman’s book, Jentz’s testimonial memoir concerns the June 22, 1977, attack on her and a female companion at a campground in Cline Fall State Park near Redmond, OR. Cycling across the United States while Yale undergraduates, the two young women were sleeping at the Oregon state park when a pickup truck drove over them and its driver attacked them with an axe. Names are crucial here, as in Hoffman’s book. Promising the reader that she has “checked and cross-checked facts” and included no “probable” dialogue (539), Jentz then addresses naming:

I have changed many names and some minor details to guard privacy. Not everyone wants to be under public scrutiny, and this is understandable. Changing names does not compromise the veracity of the whole. Most specifically, I have changed the name of the alleged perpetrator. The reason I have done so is that I do not want to feed into the cult of celebrity granted by this culture to charismatic villains. (539)

And so she pens an alliterative pseudonym, “Dirk Duran,” for her attacker, which fairly closely mirrors the alliterative real name of the man who she believes slashed her and left her for dead at the campground in 1977. Jentz’s meticulous search for “Dirk Duran”—commencing some fifteen years after the attempted murder and spanning more than a decade—builds over a riveting five-hundred-plus pages in Jentz’s book and culminates in a series of confrontations between Jentz and “Duran.” Read as a series, the scenes enact a struggle over the power of the gaze and, indeed, for narrative meaning itself. In the first scene, Jentz rigorously controls the surveillance as she spies on “Duran” when an acquaintance maneuvers him into a restaurant where Jentz is sequestered. “Dirk looked up, cocked his head, and his light blue eyes met mine for a space of a second,” Jentz writes. A few moments later, “I sat sideways in my booth. I had a box seat now. He was only five feet from me. I felt my heart race, but not from fear. I felt not a quiver of terror. I waited for a sensation arising from my past” (361). At the time, “Duran” knows that someone may be interested in that long-ago crime, but does not yet know it is Jentz or the extent to which she will haunt his life. His once-quarry essentially has become his tormentor.

The two next meet in a courtroom for an unrelated witness tampering and weapons case in which “Dirk Duran” is the defendant. Jentz highlights the axe-inflicted scars on her arms with lipstick and first watches “Duran” from a row close behind him. “I savored the leisure to watch him for hours, drill holes into the back of his head with my eyes. I thought, I’m feeling good here in my boots observing my prey. Strong and calm.” During a recess, “Duran” rises and ambles back into the courtroom so that he can in turn eye Jentz. She is ready for him. “I felt his eyes. I rolled up the left sleeve of my denim shirt . . . landing my scarlet scar just in front of his eyes. A few pregnant minutes passed in this pose. I willed my scar to show its savagery. I imagined it springing to life, a fresh cut” (474). Clearly, through her narrative, its imagery, and its arrangement in her words, Jentz reasserts some of the power and autonomy that her attacker robbed from her and her companion in that long-ago Oregon campground. The scene culminates with a dramatic stare-down that reinforces Jentz’s agenda: “[T]hen a moment came—I knew it would—when he looked back over his shoulder and we locked eyes. I stared back at him with confidence and an attitude of dominance. . . . His eyes were like two empty holes in a mask . . . I held his gaze steady. He looked away” (475).

A careful reader of Strange Piece of Paradise cannot help but conclude that Jentz’s reporting has solved the attempted murder case that the authorities had bungled more than two decades before. Although Oregon’s statute of limitations for attempted murder had long since run out (a statutory loophole that Jentz’s case helped to overturn, but which could not be retroactively applied to her case), she gains some measure of actual revenge by seeing “Duran” found guilty of coercion and a serious weapons charge at the end of the trial. “That outcome loosed in me a relief so deep that my menses started to flow,” she writes. The two lock eyes once more as “Duran” is led from the courtroom. When he is gone, “I burst into tears, leaned over and covered my face. I could feel hands, many sets of [comforting] hands on my back” (483). Yet her story’s implications do not fade as the author and her character, the once-victim and her would-be killer, wrestle for identity and control inside and outside the text. On the twenty-year anniversary of her attack, the author goes public with her evidence against “Duran” and begins to feel “the weight of responsibility” to the man/character she has reported and created. “I felt locked into mortal combat with him. I was under his control, in his hands, totally vulnerable, exposed on all fronts. Skinned alive” (489). Friends take her to a tiny inn across the mountains in coastal Oregon where she can calm down. “Then as suddenly as it began, the spell broke. I rejoined the present, calmed down, drove into the desert again” (489) toward Redmond, OR.

While it is easy to see how Terri Jentz’s narrative trajectory is working—even in this brief discussion of her nearly 550-page book—the special power of nonfiction ultimately bursts from its covers and reverses its gaze on the author. Working from the case facts that Jentz had unearthed and published—and combining them with the protected court records of the unrelated case—a CNN report broadcast on May 9, 2006, disclosed that “Duran’s” real name was Dick Damm and that “the nickname Dick Damm the hatchet man came out almost immediately” in town gossip after Jentz and her companion were attacked at the campground (“Survivor”). Thus, Jentz’s narrative control over Damm’s identity was breached despite her attempts to manage the character’s name with a pseudonym. Chillingly and somewhat ironically, the man we now know as Dick Damm was released from custody the day before Jentz was scheduled to read from Strange Piece of Paradise at an Oregon bookstore less than twenty miles from Redmond. “I had three deputy sheriffs and one retired member of the state police protecting us,” the author said in a later interview (Cook).

Though no further menacing encounters have been reported between the author and her character/attacker, the case of Strange Piece of Paradise in this and many other instances (for instance, the ramifications of Jentz’s decision to change the name of her young female companion on the cycling trip) easily demonstrates the power of nonfiction to implicate author, character, and reader in ways that dwarf similar encounters even in roman à clef fictional narrative. And at the core of that transaction, I would contend, are decisions regarding naming, truth, identity, and disclosure.

A third narrative of deep trauma, the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner for literary reporting, further complicates and culminates this discussion of the complexity and power of naming in nonfiction. Like Hoffman’s Half the House, the Pulitzer winner is a riveting testimonial of violence and sexual abuse, though it is less reflective and more immediate in that it was produced from the courtroom reporting of Eli Sanders for the Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger. And like Jentz’s Strange Piece of Paradise, a character’s actual name breaks out of the narrative beyond the original intent of the author, though for different reasons. Sanders’ article/essay, “The Bravest Woman in Seattle,” stems from a rape and murder case in Seattle’s South Park district, in which a lesbian couple was brutally attacked during a home break-in that left one of them dead. As we have seen, narratives of this sort normally include some author’s note or aside about naming: “[O]ut of respect to her wishes, The Stranger is not publishing her name,” (2) Sanders writes of the surviving woman who testified at the trial. In withholding the name Sanders follows standard journalistic procedure for cases involving sexual assault, though he and other reporters did disclose the name of her companion because she is now deceased. Still, while he protects the survivor’s identity, Sanders exposes her emotions, the facts of her case, and its impact on her life and future.

In part, Sanders manages this effect by building an indirect spoken voice for the rape survivor free of the enclosure of quotation marks or actual courtroom testimony. “This happened to me. You must listen. This happened to us. You must hear what was lost. You must hear what he did. You must hear how Teresa [her companion] fought him. You must hear what I loved about her. You must know what he took from us. This happened” (2). In this manner, Sanders can render what he believes to be the actual emotions of the survivor with direct quotes even though the survivor had tailored her actual words to fit within the more conventional discourse of prosecutorial questioning and witness response. Thus, the survivor’s defiant mind provides a conceptual framework for the truth of what happened, some of it too horrifying to recount here. Generally, Sanders tips these moments of indirect testimony with signal phrases (“as if to say”), which disclose a deeper emotional truth than anything the survivor may have testified directly. One of these moments recalls the emotions of Terry Jentz in Strange Piece of Paradise, both women scarred, but unbowed. Sanders writes in his character’s inner voice: “[F]or all of you who are looking, the four slashing scars that run from below my left ear toward my throat, the scars from when the man cut and stabbed me with his knife. I am not scared. I have nothing to hide here. Not anymore” (3).

Now a fact checker such as Jim Fingal (whether re-enacted or on the actual job) would find no such words within the trial transcript, and he and other generic taxonomists thus might be tempted to dismiss Sanders’ narrative strategy as at least quasi-fictional. But what counts in the way I read nonfiction is that Sanders implicates himself by the testimonial quality of his publicly available story, specifically by the risk that his character might step outside his written text and contradict him in real life, (I did not say that, she might claim. I would never say that.) Therefore, the inner/outer relationship of character and construction, and the potential struggle over voice and meaning, matters much more than safely factual certainty. In signaling that a real person lies behind the protagonist of his story, Eli Sanders seems careful to endow her with humanity, even though he withholds her name. In his story, he paints the tender real-life details of the survivor and her deceased companion. They grill steaks together, join Weight Watchers, share dreams, hope to open a movie theater/bistro named the Reel Café, and plan a commitment ceremony that will seal their love for one another.

When they awaken in the middle of a warm summer evening to a naked intruder, one Isaiah Kalebu and his hunting knife, the narrative turns brutal, though Sanders mostly shields his readers from the most horrific details. Instead, he describes the reactions that her testimony (of rape, sodomy, and almost unimaginable violence and degradation) produces in the courtroom. “The horror of what happened next made the court reporter’s eyes well up, made the bailiff cry, had the whole room in tears,” he reports. “The jury handed around a box of tissues. The prosecutor took long pauses to collect himself. The family and friends in the courtroom cried (though, truth be told, they had been crying throughout). The Seattle Times reporter seated next to me cried. I cried. The camerawoman who was shooting video of all the television stations in town cried” (6).

Ultimately, Sanders’s decision to render the emotional truth of his protagonist—in essence to deduce what was on her mind and to form the words that relayed her deepest emotion—leads him, however subtly, into the realm of imaginative literature, but not, I would argue, into fiction. As I have maintained throughout this essay, his narrative is anchored by and even competes with the actual presence of a woman, her testimony, and the events outside his text. Simply put, if she disagrees with his interpretation, she can show him up. The events he recounts are too public and too detailed. He cannot finally silence her in this narrative any more than her attacker could silence her actual testimony in the courtroom. As compellingly created and realistically envisioned as a fictional character might be, a fictional character normally cannot escape the text in quite the same way: hence the implications and power of nonfiction that builds actual characters and recounts public events.

As it happens, the rape survivor in this case did talk back, did disclose her name, and did reclaim her story. Published by The Stranger two months after Sanders’ Pulitzer-winning piece, her essay, “I Would Like You to Know My Name,” is remarkably candid and deliberately anchors her textual identity in actuality. “My name is Jennifer Hopper, and I am the survivor of the South Park attacks of July 19, 2009,” it begins. “My family calls me Jenny. My friends call me Jen. And my late partner, Teresa Butz, often called me J-Hop.” Why would Hopper breach the veil of anonymity that had been so scrupulously protected by Sanders and other journalists? Simple: “I no longer want to give the impression that I’m afraid to be known, or that I might be ashamed of anything that happened that night. I am not afraid. I am not ashamed. I am still here.”

Like Hoffman and Jentz, Jennifer Hopper thereby reasserts control of her own story, snatches it from the predator, and reverses the ability of abuse to define her. And, as it happens, in this case Hopper finds Sanders and his Pulitzer-winning nonfiction to be her ally, not an impediment: a conduit to her inner truth. “His writing brought humanity to my personal horror,” Hopper writes. “And I will always be grateful to have been interpreted by his honest voice.” Yet what makes nonfiction special is that Sanders could not guarantee her reaction. All he could do was bet on his own honesty and talent. Hopper could have contradicted him, exposed him, shamed him. What sets nonfiction apart is that these sorts of characters in literary nonfiction can talk back to their authors, can endorse them or undercut them. Writers and characters become living partners and/or contestants in the production of historical meaning.

Interestingly, for all the sometimes-contrived squabble over the “truth” of Levi Presley’s death, fact-checker Jim Fingal did fairly accurately describe this sort of author/character transaction. “You are writing what will probably become the de facto story of what happened to Levi,” he reminded D’Agata, “and so, every detail you choose to do that with will become significant, because your account will be the one account anyone is ever likely to read about him” (107). Moreover, Presley’s death had silenced him in a way that Hoffman, Jentz, and Hopper have not been silenced—though any number of Presley’s family members or acquaintances could contest D’Agata’s depictions. For his part, when confronted with the powerful implications I have been tracing in this essay, D’Agata in his own words seemed to slip into the safe harbor of studied narrative indeterminacy despite his often stunning prowess as a wordsmith. “Now, is it crass to call a dead boy [Levi Presley] whom I never knew an ‘idea’?” he asked his interlocutor and fact-checker Fingal. “Probably. But would it be better to call him a ‘subject’? A ‘character’? He is going to be ‘used’—or ‘defiled,’ as you put it—the moment he’s written about” (118).

Yes, he will.

The lasting implications of testimonial nonfiction set in motion all these possibilities. No one who has honestly reported and written about tragedy or scandal—and understood the power and responsibility of real names and details—would argue otherwise. Yet, when faced with the bracing specter of that responsibility, D’Agata ponders a solution that would sidestep these implicating questions and that reveals perhaps more than he intended: “So maybe the most ethically appropriate thing for me to have done is to have completely made up a suicide victim so that I could use him however I wished” (108). As Jim Fingal already had noted elsewhere in the dialogue, the name for that sort of narrative sidestep is fiction. One need not insist on a reductive binary classification to note that the “completely made-up suicide victim” would thus evade the sort of implicated reporting and naming that I have traced here through the nonfictional examples of Richard Hoffman, Terri Jentz, and Eli Sanders. At the conclusion of The Lifespan of a Fact, after the combatants have agreed to disagree and after John D’Agata has discounted “moral responsibility in nonfiction” (111) and sought solace in “a better work of art—and thus a better and truer experience for the reader—than I could have [written] if I’d stuck to the facts” (112), the somewhat wistful fact-checker Jim Fingal cannot seem to shake the power of the human life behind their story—anchored by the power of a name. And to the extent that the book becomes an artful dialogue over fact and meaning, his partner D’Agata probably also understands that power at some level.

After all, the author and fact-checker of The Lifespan of a Fact ultimately give to Fingal the last word in the book they have contrived together: “[E]ven if I could definitively determine to the fraction of a second exactly when it was that Levi left his house and from how high it was that he jumped, and in what direction the wind happened to be blowing,” Fingal muses, “and how hard and at what temperature and whether there was dust or not when he dove off the tower at 6:01:53 p.m. and plummeted for a total of 8 seconds onto a sidewalk of brown-brick herringbone . . . well, then . . . I don’t know. I’d have done my job. But wouldn’t he still be dead?” (123, emphasis added).

Exactly.

Ultimately, the fact checker seems to understand that the material presence of Presley’s body and name fuels the narrative power that outwits the artificial divisions of factual taxonomy. And Jennifer Hopper, the survivor in Eli Sanders’ Pulitzer-winning literary journalism, seems ultimately to rejoice in that very power in the responding essay where she reclaims her own name. “Yes, this happened,” Hopper exclaims. “This happened and Teresa is dead. This happened and I somehow made it to the other side. It’s a very strange place to be . . . All I can say is that I think there is tremendous power in testifying, in saying, ‘This happened to me.’”

Therein lurks what may be the truest power of nonfiction—writing that dares disturb the universe with the raw poetry of a name.

Works Cited
Bock, Charles. “American Wasteland.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 28 Feb. 2010. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.

Cook, Emily. “An Interview with Terri Jentz.” Bookslut. Bookslut.com, Aug. 2006. Web. 30 April 2012.

Cutter, Weston. “Doubling Down: An Interview with John D’Agata and Jim Fingal.” Kenyon Review Blog. Kenyonreview.org. 23 Feb. 2012. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.

D’Agata, John, and Jim Fingal. The Lifespan of a Fact. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print.

Hoffman, Richard. Half the House. Morehead, MN: New Rivers, 2005. Print.

Hopper, Jennifer. “I Would Like You to Know My Name.” The Stranger. n.p. 10 Aug. 2011. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.

Jentz, Terri. Strange Piece of Paradise. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006. Print.

Lewis-Kraus, Gideon. “The Fact Checker Versus the Fabulist.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 21 Feb. 2012. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.

Miller, Laura. “In Defense of Fact Checking.” Salon.com. Salon Media Group, 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.

Sanders, Eli. “The Bravest Woman in Seattle.” The Stranger 20:41 (2011): 1-8. Print.

Survivor of Hatchet Attack Confronts the Past.” Transcripts. CNN.com, 9 May 2006. Web. 30 April 2012.

From Volume 15, Number 1

Comments (4) - Post a Comment
Wow. I know I can come up with better words, but wow seems to fit so well. Of all the light fluff I have read about this topic, your thoroughly researched and cited article erases it all. You are an insightful and talented writer.
Thank you,
Patti
Patti Hall at 7:46am EDT - September 17, 2013
What a powerful and brilliant explication of this issue. It is moral in the best sense, as great nonfiction is.

To use someone only or even primarily as material in nonfiction is what in newspapering is called being a hack. It is sickening, and civilians find it repugnant, however much an artiste may obtusely defend what he does as Art. This issue comes down to character, not artistry.

Thank you, Dan.
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