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February 19, 2007

Should a small-town newspaper be intellectual?

John Stoehr

Critic's notebooks, think pieces, essays and other kinds of intellectual explorations -- these you don't expect to find in local newspapers like mine.

For that, you go to the New York Times, Washington Post, Atlantic Monthly or some other highfalutin East Coast publication, whose readers are likley to be Volvo-driving, latte-drinking, tree-hugging, Bill Clinton-loving liberals. Local papers are for the red-blooded types, whose interests are in sports and hard news, just the facts, and whose concerns have little time for lah-dee-dah flights of fancy.

I received an email recently that might contravene this assumption (and I admit this characterization is something of a straw man, but work with me here).

In Savannah, we have four colleges in the area. One of these is Georgia Southern University, whose student body numbers more than 17,000. One of its faculty members, Sonya Huber, expressed her appreciation recently for a piece I wrote setting the exploits of James Frey, the author of "A Million Little Pieces," in the historical and philosophical context of postmodernism.

In short, I suggest perhaps our tolerance for postmodern relativism is waning. We simply are not buying into "essential truth" the way we did 10 years ago when John Berendt came out with "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," a "nonfiction novel" that by the way has had a massive impact on the economy of Savannah. We simply call it "The Book."

Anyway, Dr. Huber's note suggests there are audiences for this kind of writing even in the American Outback.

Dear Mr. Stoehr- I just wanted to send you a quick note of thanks for your context piece on James Frey from 1/28/07. I just started as an assistant prof out here at Georgia Southern this fall, and I am using your article for today's class with my creative nonfiction students--it's great timing, as we're talking about Frey and ethics in nonfiction. I was very glad to see a thoughtful examination of the meaning of the Frey debacle in a daily paper! It made my day.

Thanks again.

Sonya Huber
Assistant Professor
Dept. of Writing & Linguistics
Georgia Southern University

Posted by John Stoehr at February 19, 2007 1:01 AM

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