"...Houghton Mifflin rolled the dice and launched BAE, publishing it as a Ticknor & Fields book. The imprint dated from the early 19th century. It was the house that published Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and Henry David Thoreau, essayists who, as one wag put it, parted their names in the middle. "

"When BAE was launched in 1986 as a Ticknor & Fields book, there was an air of lavender still hanging about the essay."

"Gay Talese’s introduction to the 1987 collection...was largely an extended retelling of the story of writing 'Frank Sinatra Has a Cold'...itself an extended re-telling of the story of Talese trying to get an interview with Sinatra, making this introduction meta-meta. It read as a paean for a New Journalism that even in 1987 was no longer new."

"Pfaff’s parenthetical jab is snobbery disguised as a critique of snobbery..."

"Epstein’s self-satisfied opening line reveals what he does and doesn’t know about economic class: 'Karl, Friedrich, forgive me, fellas, for never having taken much interest in your class struggle, but the truth is that for the better part of my live I have been a bit unclear about what class I myself belong to.' If were to hazard a guess, Joe, I’d say 'petit bourgeois intellectual.'"

"It is you and I, Gentle Reader, and I suspect that we, like Joseph Epstein, are petit bourgeois intellectuals, or at least, kissing cousins to petit bourgeois intellectuals."

"The label 'middle-class' itself obfuscates. Americans prefer it to more precise descriptors such as 'working-class,' 'petit bourgeois,' or 'capitalist.'...For us, it is disgraceful to say you’re lower class, distasteful to say you’re upper class. Such denial has long been part and parcel of American exceptionalism but it served the Reagan Era especially well.'

"The New Yorker...had always juxtaposed celebrity profiles with hand-wringing liberalism, ads for good scotch and fur coats with cartoons that poked fun at the people who wore the furs and sipped the cocktails, but it was in the 1980s that such self-deprecation soured into self-hatred, and a novel that starred a New Yorker fact-checker on a cocaine binge became a bestseller."

"On the most base level, New Journalism had resulted from a Midtown squabble among Esquire, The New Yorker, and the New York Magazine (formerly the Sunday supplement of the New York Herald Tribune) over the same advertising accounts."

"New Journalism had always been about the cross-pollination of nonfiction by fiction so it made sense that Talese’s volume of BAE would include novelists such as Dunne and Stone. (For partisans of the fourth genre, this choice always suggests that our inferiority complex is right. Essays can be written by fiction writers, real writers, with their left hand.)"

"Perhaps Talese admired Lopate’s piece on its own terms, perhaps they knew each other (though the East Side is further from Brooklyn than one might think), or perhaps Atwan, a fellow Montaignean, pushed for it; in any case, it stands out as more essayistic, more personal, more forward-looking than much of the rest of the volume. It foreshadows the renaissance of the essay that was about to come."


"We ended up at the University of Iowa, precisely at the dawn of the essay renaissance the 1987 BAE foreshadowed. Carl Klaus was transforming the old expository writing program of literary criticism and composition theory into a program that focused exclusively on literary nonfiction. He brought Sanders and Lopez in for readings, and Patricia Hampl and Carol Bly for semester-long workshops. We read Montaigne and Bacon, Orwell and Baldwin, Didion and Mairs. We formed study groups and read each other’s stuff. It felt like we were riding a wave that was about to crest.

"Then Lopate’s anthology came out. The Atwan and Oates anthology came out. The John D’Agata anthologies came out. Fourth Genre, River Teeth, and Creative Nonfiction were launched. The Digital Revolution arrived, bringing Brevity and Assay with it. Where once Iowa was one of just a few graduate programs in nonfiction in the country; now there are almost 200. Robin Hemley introduced the NonfictioNow conference. No one longs for the good old days of New Journalism anymore, Elizabeth and I have (almost) raised our two daughters, BAE is in its thirtieth year, and the wave doesn’t seem to have crested."

Read the whole thing here!

AuthorJohn Proctor