Friday June 4th, 2010

The Art of the Stunt

paper-lionCreative Nonfiction offers step-by-step instructions to aspiring “stunt writers.” You know, the kind of thing A. J. Jacobs has done so much that for his latest book he sheds the pretense and just explicitly calls himself a guinea pig. Step 3 (of 11) is “Convince an Editor/Publisher to Let You Write About (and, Ideally, to Pay For) Your Stunt”:

One day, Barbara Ehrenreich was having lunch with Lewis Lapham, then editor of Harper’s. As she tells the story, their talk drifted to poverty and to how women, especially, would fare under welfare reform and support themselves and, often, families on minimum wage. Ehrenreich suggested that someone should do “the old-fashioned kind of journalism—you know, go out there and try it for themselves.” And “Lapham got this crazy-looking half smile on his face and ended life as I knew it, for long stretches at least, with the single word ‘You.’” [George] Plimpton pitched his idea for a series of sports-related escapades to the editor of Sports Illustrated, who gave him the go-ahead to pitch baseballs to All-Stars and later even put up a cash prize for the “winning” batters, but warned, “Seems to me that your big problem isn’t going to be arranging these . . . er . . . matches, or writing about what you go through, but getting through everything in one piece . . . in a word: survival. I would advise getting in shape.” Which turned out to have been good advice—if only Plimpton had paid heed.