The field of literary journalism represents a marriage between two established disciplines, and a husband-and-wife team of University of Wisconsin Oshkosh professors, one from literature and one from journalism, is helping to shape the growing body of scholarship on this subject.
The next issue of Literary Journalism Studies, a two-year-old journal published by Northwestern University, will feature a scholarly essay by Roberta Maguire, English, and a cover photo by her husband Miles Maguire, journalism.
Roberta’s essay is called “Riffing on Hemingway and Burke, Responding to Mailer and Wolfe: Albert Murray’s ‘Anti-Journalism.’” The essay is part of a monograph she is completing on Murray, and in it Roberta provides a new reading of a key work by the black author and cultural critic.
She shows how his 1971 book, “South to a Very Old Place,” can be viewed as an example of literary journalism and as a critique of the way white literary journalists, such as Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe, badly misunderstood and misrepresented black culture in the post-Civil Rights era.
The editor of the journal asked Roberta if she could provide a recent picture of Murray, who is 94 and living in New York City, to accompany her article. Murray has been associated with some of the most important names in African American arts and letters, including Ralph Ellison, Romare Bearden and Wynton Marsalis, and he has sat for portraits by acclaimed photographers such as Richard Burbridge, Carol Friedman and Jill Krementz.
Fortunately the Maguires had paid a visit to Murray’s Harlem apartment last summer, and while there Miles had captured a series of digital images of the writer. One of these, a close-up of Murray seated in front of a Bearden oil painting and some of the jazz CDs in his extensive collection, was chosen for the cover.
This is not the first time that Miles’ work has appeared in Literary Journalism Studies. In the spring he published an essay there on Richard Critchfield, who was the first reporter to receive a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation.
Miles’ work on Critchfield is part of an ongoing project on “genius journalism,” examining the MacArthur fellows who have worked as reporters, photographers or documentarians. This project has been supported to date by two grants from the university’s Faculty Development Program.
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