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Literary journalism as artfulness: The resonant voice of Tracy Kidder

Henry O. Wefing, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The development of literary journalism has, in part, been a reaction to the strictures on employing the writer's own voice in conventional journalism. A number of students of the genre have identified voice as a characteristic of literary journalism, but voice has not been viewed—or used—as an important object of critical investigation. The neglect of voice is due partly to its confusion with point-of-view but mainly, this thesis argues, to an overriding emphasis on the analysis of the use of fictional techniques by writers of literary journalism. Tom Wolfe argued famously in The New Journalism that four techniques distinguished the work of literary journalists: the writing of scenes, the capturing of dialog, the use of third-person point-of-view, and the reporting of “status” details. Subsequent students of literary journalism have tended to focus on the use of those techniques in the works they analyze. This study of Tracy Kidder's work illuminates the gradual maturation of technique in one of the most successful practitioners of literary journalism. Kidder's voice developed over the course of a writing career that had, at the time of this writing, produced seven books. From a halting first-person narrative to a narrative that employed the first person rarely and unobtrusively, Kidder moved in this third and subsequent books until his last to an authoritative voice that permitted him to deepen his narratives and explore the broader implications that resonated in the particular subjects he chose. Close examination of his books also reveals a voice that, in many places, employs in description and characterization a metaphoric imagination generally associated with the poet rather than the journalist. Most readings of Kidder's work have focused on his achievement in exhaustively researching a subject, in rendering scenes with accurate dialog and vivid description, in portraying characters in rich detail, and in adopting points-of-view that offer illuminating perspectives. This study denigrates none of that achievement but contends that the analysis of his narrative voice leads to both increased understanding of journalistic technique and richer readings of the individual works.

Subject Area

Journalism|American literature|Mass media

Recommended Citation

Wefing, Henry O., "Literary journalism as artfulness: The resonant voice of Tracy Kidder" (2004). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3152759.