In 1973, Tom Wolfe published The New Journalism; the seminal book was part manifesto for a new style of nonfiction writing and part anthology of its early greatest hits. It contained work by Wolfe, Gay Talese, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, Truman Capote, and Norman Mailer, among others. Below is a short excerpt from the book’s first chapter, where Wolfe introduces his premise. The chapter originally appeared in the February 14, 1972 issue of New York Magazine as “The Birth of ‘The New Journalism’: An Eyewitness Report” and was later reprinted in The New Journalism.
And yet in the early 1960s a curious new notion, just hot enough to inflame the ego, had begun to intrude into the tiny confines of the feature statusphere. It was in the nature of a discovery. This discovery, modest at first, humble, in fact, deferential, you might say, was that it just might be possible to write journalism that would…read like a novel. Like a novel, if you get the picture. This was the sincerest form of homage to The Novel and to those greats, the novelists, of course. Not even the journalists who pioneered in this direction doubted for a moment that the novelist was the reigning literary artist, now and forever. All they were asking for was the privilege of dressing up like him…until the day when they themselves would work up their nerve and go into the shack and try it for real…They were dreamers, all right, but one thing they never dreamed of. They never dreamed of the approaching irony. They never guessed for a minute that the work they would do over the next ten years, as journalists, would wipe out the novel as literature’s main event.