"Proper Names Are Poetry in the Raw": Character Formation in Traumatic Nonfiction Daniel W. Lehman "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 qualify 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 "Proper Names Are Poetry in the Raw" 57 Daniel W. Lehman big a deal" (39). More
River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative – Ashland University
Published: Sep 21, 2013
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