Nancy Smith


Thoughts on design, writing, and the future of books.

February 16, 2012 at 10:14am

The Lifespan of a Fact

Looking forward to reading this:

The Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata & Jim Fingal
Release Date: February 27, 2012

Publisher’s Description:

How negotiable is a fact in nonfiction? In 2003, an essay by John D’Agata was rejected by the magazine that commissioned it due to factual inaccuracies. That essay which eventually became the foundation of D’Agata s critically acclaimed About a Mountain was accepted by another magazine, The Believer, but not before they handed it to their own fact-checker, Jim Fingal. What resulted from that assignment was seven years of arguments, negotiations, and revisions as D’Agata and Fingal struggled to navigate the boundaries of literary nonfiction.

This book reproduces D’Agata’s essay, along with D’Agata and Fingal’s extensive correspondence. What emerges is a brilliant and eye-opening meditation on the relationship between truth and accuracy and a penetrating conversation about whether it is appropriate for a writer to substitute one for the other.


Here’s D’Agata on PRI:

I don’t consider myself a journalist. I never received training as a journalist … I know that I do an overwhelming amount of research and I’m often interviewing people but what I then do with the information is dramatically different.

I like playing with the idea of journalism and our expectation of journalism. So I like making something feel journalistic and then slowly reveal that that approach isn’t really going to give us as readers what we want from the text, that we need to try a different sort of essaying, and then the essays become a lot more associative and the perhaps become a bit more imaginative and start taking the problematic liberties.

I think it is art’s job to trick us. I think it is art’s job to lure us into terrain that is going to confuse us perhaps make us feel uncomfortable and perhaps open up to us possibilities in the world that we hadn’t earlier considered.

I think that we have to be fooled before we are really able to wonder. So philosophically my issue is that we’re not allowing an entire genre – nonfiction – to have that kind of a relationship with the reader.  And that’s for me, as an artist, that’s problematic.


  1. nancysmith posted this