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Truth And The Limits Of Artistic License In Storytelling

John D’Agata and Jim Fingal (Courtesy Margaret Stratton)

John D’Agata and Jim Fingal (Courtesy Margaret Stratton)

This is the lead paragraph from a brief published in the Las Vegas Sun on July 15, 2002:

A 16-year-old Las Vegas boy jumped to his death after he scaled two fences on the 109th floor of the Stratosphere Tower Saturday night.

The teenager’s name was Levi Presley. After his suicide, writer John D’Agata wrote a story about Presley for Harper’s Magazine. The magazine rejected the piece due to factual inaccuracies it found.

D’Agata then submitted the piece to The Believer Magazine and they assigned one of their interns, Jim Fingal, to fact check the story. What followed from that initial assignment was a seven-year correspondence between between the two men. In short, Jim found factual problems with nearly every sentence in John’s piece, and John’s response was: So what?

Those correspondences, as well as the original essay and Jim Fingal’s copious fact-checking notes, comprise the new book “The Lifespan of a Fact.” And the book is much more than just an essay on errata. It’s an exploration of the art of storytelling, our expectations as readers, and the comparative relationship between fact and truth.

Guests:

  • John D’Agata, co-author, “The Lifespan of A Fact;” creative writing professor at the University of Iowa
  • Jim Fingal, co-author, “The Lifespan of A Fact;” former fact checker and current software designer

More:

Read an excerpt from “The Lifespan of a Fact” by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal. (Reprinted from The Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal. Copyright © 2012 by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.)


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Host Meghna Chakrabarti introduces us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and brings us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3 p.m. and 10 p.m.

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