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Arts & Culture Series: Research Spotlight

Researcher wins award for work on controversial books by Gay Talese

Dr Julie Wheelwright analysed journalism ethics in Thy Neighbor’s Wife and The Voyeur’s Motel

by Ed Grover (Senior Communications Officer)

A creative writing lecturer from City, University of London has won an award for research that explores ethical issues raised by books from the legendary author Gay Talese.

Dr Julie Wheelwright, of the Department of English, was chosen for the 2018 John C. Hartsock Prize for the best article of the year in the journal Literary Journalism Studies.

Her paper analyses the relationship between writer and subject in Gay Talese’s books, Thy Neighbor’s Wife (1981) and The Voyeur’s Motel (2016).

Dr Wheelwright looks at the difficulties and ethical concerns that arise when a journalist becomes too involved in the story they are telling.

Talese’s methods came under scrutiny following the publication of The Voyeur’s Motel, which has since become the subject of a Netflix documentary, Voyeur.

Dr Wheelwright said: “I’m delighted to be this year’s recipient of the John C. Hartsock Prize for the Best Article in Literary Journalism Studies for my article on the immersive techniques of Gay Talese.

“Hartsock’s critical work on the history of literary journalism has made a major contribution to defining this field and a major influence on shaping my thoughts for this piece. To be amongst the leading scholars who contribute to this journal, is an honour indeed.”

The City academic argues that in both books – which describe the evolution of attitudes to sex in America – Talese fails to acknowledge his own influence on the events he reports and does not reveal his motivations for investigating them.

Dr Wheelwright argues that Talese should have come clean about these questions and claims that not doing so damages the relationship of trust between Talese and the reader.

Concluding her article in Literary Journalism Studies, she writes: “Perhaps the most vital message in this exploration of these journalistic investigations into the fraught territory of sexual intimacy is the need for psychological insight and an ability to face up to the brutal honesty of our motivating psyches.”

Dr Wheelwright will receive her prize at the annual conference of the International Association for Literary Journalism Studies (IALJS) on 18th May 2018.

The City academic is programme director of MA Creative Writing (Non-Fiction), the author of several books and a former broadcast journalist.

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