What's in Store

What’s In Store: January 2013

By Steve Weinberg | From the January 2013 Issue

Two of the best senior practitioners of literary nonfiction, Mike Sager and Walt Harrington, decided a few years ago to seek the best magazine and newspaper features they could find by writers under age 40. They (with assistance from student researchers) succeeded in finding far more gems by far more youngsters than they had imagined. The result is the compilation Next Wave: America’s New Generation of Great Literary Journalists.

Not so incidentally, Sager and Harrington decided to market the book without seeking the services of an established trade publisher. The publishing imprint is known as The Sager Group. Sager, who invested savings from his career as an author, calls it “a multi-media artists’ and writers’ consortium, with the intent of empowering those who make art—an umbrella beneath which artists can pursue, and profit from, their craft directly, without gatekeepers.” Sager, needless to say, is something of a gatekeeper, but a benevolent one. He pays royalties after sales of ebooks and print-on-demand books.

Sager and Harrington met at The Washington Post in 1980. Neither works there now—Sager freelances from San Diego, Harrington teaches journalism at the University of Illinois. Their own books have contributed mightily to the craft of excellent in-depth nonfiction. Harrington (waltharrington.com) has done so through his books about the craft, including Intimate Journalism: The Art and Craft of Reporting Everyday Life and The Beholder’s Eye, which features first-person journalism, a voice Harrington believes has received a bad rap. Harrington also teaches by example in his exquisite quasi-memoirs The Everlasting Stream: A True Story of Rabbits, Guns, Friendship, and Family plus Crossings: A White Man’s Journey Into Black America. (Harrington’s unusual insights derive partly from marrying into an African-American family.) Sager has contributed to the craft mainly through four anthologies of his own in-depth features, the newest being The Someone You’re Not: True Stories of Sports, Celebrity, Politics, and Pornography, a title from The Sager Group.

The journalistic brilliance collected in The New Wave comes from Texas Monthly, Rolling Stone, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Esquire, Men’s Journal, GQ, St. Petersburg Times, Sports Illustrated, New York magazine, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Atlanta magazine, 5280 magazine (Denver), Washington Post, The New Republic, and ESPN the Magazine. (A personal note: The two pieces from ESPN the Magazine are by Wright Thompson and Seth Wickersham. Thompson is my son-in-law, married to my magazine editor daughter Sonia. Wickersham was the best man at their wedding. To extend the personal note further, two University of Missouri Journalism School classmates of Thompson and Wickersham, Tony Rehagen and Justin Heckert, are authors of stories in the collection, also. I used to teach feature writing at the University of Missouri Journalism School, but cannot claim credit for the talent of any of those superb scribes.)

Next Wave would be valuable if it did nothing more than pull together its contents without further refinement. But the value-added factor is huge. The young journalists add postscripts to their previously published pieces. The Introduction by Sager and Harrington, “The New Masters,” would be worthy as a standalone essay.

Here is an especially upbeat paragraph from the Introduction, a welcome respite from the gloominess of so much commentary about in-depth reporting and writing: “A funny thing happened on the way to the funeral for long-form journalism—the source of its supposed demise, the Internet, may well turn out to save it by bringing an unexpected opportunity for practitioners and readers alike. New websites such as Byliner.com, Longform.org, Atavist.com, and LongStories.net are collecting literary journalists from all around the world, making it more easily available to readers than ever. Some of these sites are taking on the role of traditional publications, assigning original stories for pay—and sharing the back-end profits with the writers, who have to ante up their own expenses. The Huffington Post Web operation even won a Pulitzer Prize for its ten-part series on wounded war veterans. The websites of individual magazines are just a Net search away. And ebooks give anybody the ability to become a publisher.”

Many ASJA members are aware of, and subscribe to, the impressive number of magazines (hard copy and online) devoted to the craft of reporting and writing in-depth narratives. I am wondering, though, whether the periodical River Teeth has intruded on the consciousness of most ASJA members. The twice yearly magazine bills itself as “a journal of nonfiction narrative.” I have found every issue worthwhile. Volume Fourteen, Issue One carries the date Fall 2012 and is especially beguiling.

For ASJA members writing or thinking about writing memoirs, two essays will enlighten and entertain: “Writing and Publishing a Memoir—What the Hell Have I Done” by Andre Dubus III, and “Selling Out in the Writing of Memoir” by Lee Martin. For practicing or potential essayists within ASJA, Robert Atwan’s “Notes Towards the Definition of an Essay” is instructive in the extreme.

River Teeth (www.riverteethjournal.com) emanates from Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio. I noticed that Walt Harrington serves on its editorial board, along with some of the other superb long-form journalists who have influenced my reporting and writing positively for decades.

Steve Weinberg writes an average of one book review per week all year long as part of his just-above-the-poverty-line freelance writing career.
Contact him at steveweinbergauthor.com.

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