Have y’all been following this controversy about John D’Agata and his fact checker, Jim Fingal (there’s a new book out on it, The Lifespan of a Fact, published by Norton)? In a nutshell, in 2003, D’Agata submitted an essay to The Believer, and Fingal, the magazine’s fact checker, took over from there. There were factual inaccuracies in D’Agata’s essay, including the statement that Las Vegas had 34 strip clubs, when the source clearly said it had 31. D’Agata’s argument? “Well, I guess that’s because the rhythm of ‘thirty-four’ works better in that sentence than the rhythm of ‘thirty-one,’ so I changed it.” Brevity’s got more over at their blog, but here’s an excerpt from what they’re saying:
“D’Agata’s stance is that the lyric essay is so different an animal than other nonfiction that it does not require an adherence to facts or honest memory, that it can be altered at will because language rules over logic or veracity. That’s a sexy stance, and it is gaining some traction, but unfortunately it also plays right into the wheelhouse of those who want to endlessly criticize creative nonfiction. For many lazy writers, it is also an easy way out.”
Yet Brevity is also giving time to the other side in another post, “In Fairness to John D’Agata.”
You can also read an excerpt from the book at Harper’s. I’m going to try to get a copy of the book, too, and will report back with more. In the meantime, what do you think about D’Agata’s position? Have you read the book?
Leslie Maxwell is a nonfiction editor at Phoebe