For that matter, how can one differentiate between the two forms? At first, I thought that subject matter must, surely, be a very important aspect, other than audience. For example, John Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” indicates that subject matter is what labels this as literary journalism. It’s gory, bold, and definitely reports the facts involved. Also there is no apparent first person, which may suggest that this could not, by definition, be a memoir. A memoir needs first person to be a memoir.
But what about Atul Gawande’s “When Doctor’s Make Mistakes”? It’s written in first person, so can it be literary journalism? Or should it be a memoir? It reports on the very real issue of faulty medical practices and it is propelled by scientific facts, dates, and well-known medical journals. The major distinction, here, is that this article is listed under “The Science Essay” section of our book. So, is it not literary journalism, then, or is it even a memoir? Maybe, it’s a third, even more profound type of nonfiction, the elusive “Personal Essay.” I’m going to stop now, before I break this keyboard, because it’s just too confusing. The personal essay will rest on a cliff.
Now, I’m not sure that I should even be comparing the two articles because clearly they cannot be from the same genre. And that’s what bothers me. Why is one literary journalism and the other not? Because of the first person, the subject matter, or the audience? Or, all of the above?
All things considered, maybe they shouldn’t be clearly defined. In fact, this confusion of mine hindered my enjoyment of the articles, and I’m sure that wasn’t supposed to happen. Maybe a memoir and literary journalism are both, essentially, the same things in regards to literature. Both are creative nonfiction, and maybe that’s where the definition needs to end.