What ‘Lifespan of a Fact’ teaches us about the limits of creative nonfiction

March 14, 2012
Category: Uncategorized

The Lifespan of a Fact” has raised important questions in recent weeks about the nature of truth in creative nonfiction and the limits of literary license.

In the book, which has been gaining widespread attention, fact-checker Jim Fingal questions details that author John D’Agata has written about the death of Las Vegas teenager Levi Presley. Parts of the book are based on facts, but much of it is re-imagined. As D’Agata has said, “being precise would be less dramatic.”

The book — and its publisher’s promotion of it — has created confusion among reviewers about what is and isn’t true. As my colleague Craig Silverman recently learned, some reviewers weren’t aware that the book is more fiction than fact. This poses a verification problem; if reviewers are misled, then their reviews could subsequently misinform the public.

In a live chat today, we talked with Silverman and Reuter’s Jack Shafer about the issues surrounding the book. (Here’s Shafer’s piece comparing D’Agata and Truman Capote.) Specifically, we looked at what happens when authors blend fiction and nonfiction, and what this means for reviewers and readers.

You can replay the chat here …


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