John Richard Hersey
(June 17, 1914 – March 24, 1993) was an American writer and journalist. He is considered one of the earliest practitioners of the so-called New Journalism
, in which storytelling
techniques of fiction are adapted to non-fiction reportage.
of the aftermath of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan
, was adjudged the finest piece of American journalism of the 20th century by a 36-member panel associated with New York University
's journalism department.
Hersey was born in Tientsin
the son of Grace Baird and Roscoe Hersey, Protestantmissionaries
for the YMCA
in Tientsin. Hersey learned to speak Chinese before he spoke English; Hersey's novel, The Call
(1985), is based on the lives of his parents and several other missionaries of their generation.
After his time at Cambridge, Hersey got a summer job as private secretary and driver for author Sinclair Lewis
during 1937; but he chafed at his duties, and that autumn he began work for Time
for which he was hired after writing an essay on the magazine's dismal quality.
Two years later (1939) he was transferred to Time'
bureau. In 1940, William Saroyan
lists him among "contributing editors" at Time
in the play, Love's Old Sweet Song
During World War II, Newsweekly
correspondent Hersey covered the fighting in Europe and Asia. He wrote articles for Time
magazines. He accompanied Allied troops on their invasion of Sicily
, survived four airplane crashes,
and was commended by the Secretary of the Navy
for his role in helping evacuate wounded soldiers from Guadalcanal
After the war, during the winter of 1945–46, Hersey was in Japan, reporting for The New Yorker
on the reconstruction of the devastated country, when he found a document written by a Jesuit missionary
who had survived the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The journalist visited the missionary, who introduced him to other survivors.
Reporting from Hiroshima
Hiroshima in ruins, October 1945, two months after the atomic bomb exploded
At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk.
— Opening sentence, Hiroshima
, John Hersey, 1946
Soon afterward John Hersey began discussions with William Shawn
, an editor for The New Yorker
, about a lengthy piece on the previous summer's bombing. Hersey proposed a story that would convey the cataclysmic narrative through individuals who survived.
In May 1946, Hersey traveled to Japan, where he spent three weeks doing research and interviewing survivors. He returned to America during late June and began writing the stories of six Hiroshima survivors: a German Jesuit priest, a widowed seamstress, two doctors, a minister, and a young woman who worked in a factory.
The resulting piece was his most notable work, the 31,000-word article "Hiroshima
", which was published in the August 31, 1946, issue of The New Yorker
. The story dealt with the atomic bomb
dropped on that Japanese city on August 6, 1945, and its effects on the six survivors. The article occupied almost the entire issue of the magazine – something The New Yorker
had never done before.
Later books and college master's job
Hersey himself often decried the New Journalism
, which in many ways he had helped create. He would have probably disagreed with a description of his article on the effects of the atomic bomb as New Journalism. Later, the ascetic
Hersey came to feel that some elements of the New Journalism of the 1970s were not rigorous enough about fact and reporting. After publication of Hiroshima
, Hersey noted that "the important 'flashes' and 'bulletins' are already forgotten by the time yesterday morning's paper is used to line the trash can. The things we remember are emotions and impressions and illusions and images and characters: the elements of fiction."
His article about the dullness of grammar school readers
in a 1954 issue of Life
magazine, "Why Do Students Bog Down on First R? A Local Committee Sheds Light on a National Problem: Reading" was the inspiration for Dr. Seuss's juvenile story The Cat in the Hat
. Further criticisms of the school system came with his novel The Child Buyer
(1960), a speculative fiction
. Hersey also wrote The Algiers Motel Incident
, about a racially motivated shooting by police during the 12th Street Riot
in Detroit, Michigan, during July 1967. Hersey's first novel A Bell for Adano
, about the Allied occupation of a Sicilian town during World War II, won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel
in 1945, and was adapted into the 1945 movie A Bell for Adano
directed by Henry King
, featuring John Hodiak
and Gene Tierney
. His 1956 short novel, A Single Pebble
, is the tale of a young American engineer traveling up the Yangtze
on a river junk during the 1920s and discovering that his romantic concepts of China bring disaster. His 1965 novel, White Lotus,
is an exploration of the African American experience prior to civil rights as reflected in an alternate history in which white Americans are enslaved by the Chinese after losing "the Great War" to them.
From 1965 to 1970, Hersey was master of Pierson College
, one of twelve residential colleges
at Yale University, where his outspoken activism and early opposition to the Vietnam War
made him controversial with alumni but admired by many students.
After the trial of the Black Panthers
in New Haven
, Connecticut, Hersey wrote Letter to the Alumni
(1970), in which the former Yale College
master sympathetically addressed civil rights and anti-war activism – and attempted to explain them to sometimes aggravated alumni.
Hersey also pursued an unusual sideline: he operated the college's small letterpress printing
operation, which he sometimes used to publish broadsides – during 1969 printing an elaborate broadside of an Edmund Burke
quote for Yale history professor and fellow residential college master Elting E. Morison.
A Bell for Adano first edition cover (1944)
For 18 years Hersey also taught two writing courses, in fiction and non-fiction, to undergraduates. Hersey taught his last class in fiction writing at Yale during 1984. In his individual sessions with undergraduates to discuss their work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author was sometimes known to write his comments in the margin, and having discussed his suggestion with the student, to then take out his pencil and erase his comment. As Master of Pierson College, he subsequently hosted his old boss Henry Luce
– with whom Hersey had become reconciled after their dispute years prior – when Luce spoke to the college's undergraduates. Time
founder Luce was a notoriously dull public speaker, and his address to the Pierson undergraduates was no exception. After Luce's somnolent speech, the former publisher privately revealed to Hersey for the first time that he and his wife Clare Boothe Luce
had taken LSD
while supervised by a physician. Hersey later confessed he was relieved that Luce had saved that particular revelation for a more private audience.
In 1969 Hersey donated the services of his bulldog 'Oliver' as mascot for the Yale football team. Making his debut during the autumn of 1969, Handsome Dan XI
(the Yale bulldog's traditional name) had Hersey concerned about the dog's interest level. A football fan himself, Hersey had wondered aloud "whether Oliver would stay awake for two hours."
With a new mascot, the sometimes hapless Yale team finished the season with a 7–2 record.
During 1985 John Hersey returned to Hiroshima, where he reported and wrote Hiroshima: The Aftermath, a follow-up to his original story. The New Yorker published Hersey's update in its July 15, 1985 issue, and the article was subsequently appended to a newly revised edition of the book. "What has kept the world safe from the bomb since 1945 has not been deterrence, in the sense of fear of specific weapons, so much as it's been memory," wrote Hersey. "The memory of what happened at Hiroshima."
John Hersey has been called a "compulsive plagiarist." For instance, he used complete paragraphs from the James Agee biography by Laurence Bergreen in his own New Yorker
essay about Agee. Half of his book, Men on Bataan,
came from work filed for Time
by Melville Jacoby and his wife.
A longtime resident of Vineyard Haven, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts – chronicled in his 1987 work Blues
– John Hersey died at his winter home in Key West, Florida
, on March 24, 1993, at the compound he and his wife shared with his friend, writer Ralph Ellison
. Ellison's novel Invisible Man
was one of Hersey's favorite works, and he often urged students in his fiction-writing seminar to study Ellison's storytelling techniques and descriptive prose. Hersey's death was front-page news in the next day's New York Times
The writer was buried near his home on Martha's Vineyard.
He was survived by his second wife, Barbara Day (the former wife of Hersey's colleague at The New Yorker
, artist Charles Addams
), Hersey's five children, one of whom is the composer and musician Baird Hersey, and six grandchildren. Barbara Hersey died on Martha's Vineyard 14 years later on August 16, 2007.
On October 5, 2007, the United States Postal Service announced that it would honor five journalists of the 20th century with first-class rate postage stamps, to be issued on Tuesday, April 22, 2008: Martha Gellhorn
, John Hersey, George Polk
, Rubén Salazar
, and Eric Sevareid
. Postmaster General
Jack Potter announced the stamp series at the Associated Press
managing editors meeting in Washington, D.C.
Soon before Hersey's death, then Acting President of Yale Howard Lamar
decided the university should honor its long-serving alumnus. The result was the annual John Hersey Lecture, the first of which was delivered March 22, 1993, by historian and Yale graduate David McCullough
, who noted Hersey's contributions to Yale but reserved his strongest praise for the former magazine writer's prose. Hersey had "portrayed our time," McCullough observed, "with a breadth and artistry matched by very few. He has given us the century in a great shelf of brilliant work, and we are all his beneficiaries."
The John Hersey Prize at Yale was endowed during 1985 by students of the author and former Pierson College master. The prize is awarded to "a senior or junior for a body of journalistic work reflecting the spirit and ideals of John Hersey: engagement with moral and social issues, responsible reportage and consciousness of craftsmanship." Winners of the John Hersey Prize include David M. Halbfinger (Yale Class of 1990) and Motoko Rich (Class of 1991), who both later had reporting careers for The New York Times
, and journalist Jacob Weisberg
(Class of 1985), who would become editor-in-chief of The Slate Group
Among Hersey's earlier students at Yale was Michiko Kakutani
, formerly the chief book critic of The New York Times
, as well as film critic Gene Siskel
Hersey's books include:
- Men on Bataan, 1942
- Into the Valley, 1943
- A Bell for Adano, 1944
- Hiroshima, 1946
- The Wall, 1950
- The Marmot Drive, 1953
- A Single Pebble, 1956
- The War Lover, 1959
- The Child Buyer, 1960
- Here to Stay, 1963
- White Lotus, 1965
- Too Far To Walk, 1966
- Under the Eye of the Storm, 1967
- The Algiers Motel Incident, 1968
- Letter to the Alumni, 1970
- The Conspiracy, 1972
- My Petition for More Space, 1974
- The Walnut Door, 1977
- Aspects of the Presidency, 1980
- The Call, 1985
- Blues, 1987
- Life Sketches, 1989
- Fling and Other Stories, 1990
- Antonietta, 1991
- Key West Tales, 1994
- ^ a b Severo, Richard (March 25, 1993). "John Hersey, Author of 'Hiroshima,' Is Dead at 78". The New York Times.
- ^ Tom Goldstein (1989). Killing the Messenger: 100 Years of Media Criticism. Columbia University Press. p. [page needed]. ISBN 0-231-06602-3. john hersey new journalism.
- ^ Felicity Barringer (March 1, 1999). "Journalism's Greatest Hits". The New York Times.
- ^ After their graduation from Syracuse University, Roscoe and Grace Hersey traveled to China to teach basketball and accounting, as well as Western medicine, education, science and agronomy.
- ^ Hersey, John (1985). The Call. New York: Knopf.
- ^ William Hersey was later town selectman and a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company; he died at Hingham in 1658. There is a monument to him in the Old Ship Burying Ground in Hingham.
- ^ Dee, Jonathan. "John Hersey, The Art of Fiction No. 92". The Paris Review. Retrieved October 24, 2013.
- ^ Cheever, Mary (1990). The changing landscape: a history of Briarcliff Manor-Scarborough. Maine: Phoenix Publishing. p. 77. ISBN 0-914659-49-9.
- ^ Weingarten, Marc (2010). The Gang That Wouldn't Write Straight: Wolfe, Thompson, Didion, and the New Journalism Revolution. Random House LLC. p. [page needed]. ISBN 978-1-4000-4914-1.
- ^ Robbins, Alexandra (2002). Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-72091-7.
- ^ Macht, Norman L. (2010). Football's Last Iron Men: 1934, Yale vs. Princeton, And One Stunning Upset. University of Nebraska Press. p. 153.
- ^ Brennan, Elizabeth A.; Clarage, Elizabeth C. (1999). Who's Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. [page needed]. ISBN 1-57356-111-8.
- ^ a b Gates, David (April 5, 1993). "An All-American Foreigner". Newsweek.
- ^ Saroyan, William (1940). Love's Old Sweet Song: A Play in Three Acts. Samuel French. p. 72. Retrieved July 15, 2017.
- ^ a b "John Hersey, American Society of Authors and Writers".
- ^ a b Raphael, Caroline (August 22, 2016). "How John Hersey's Hiroshima revealed the horror of the bomb". Magazine. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
- ^ "Obituary of John Hersey". The New Yorker. April 5, 1993.
- ^ "Awakening a Sleeping Giant the Call", R. Z. Sheppard, TIME, May 6, 1985
- ^ It spent 5 weeks at Number 1 and 3 months at Number 2 on the New York Times Fiction Best Seller List of 1950. See: John Bear, The No. 1 New York Times Best Seller: intriguing facts about the 484 books that have been #1 New York Times bestsellers since the first list, 50 years ago, Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1992, pp. 43–47
- ^ "Past Winners". Jewish Book Council. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
- ^ "How a Priest's Kid Won a Jewish Book Award, Jewcy.com".
- ^ "The Stanley Hillman Foundation Journalism Awards, hillmanfoundation.org". Archived from the original on January 29, 2009.
- ^ "Anxiety Behind the Facade". Time. June 23, 1967. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
- ^ "People, Sports Illustrated, December 1, 1969". CNN. December 1, 1969. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
- ^ Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993), pp. 109–11
- ^ Yale University celebrated the former professor and writer's life at a memorial service at Battell Chapel in New Haven, where Yale President Howard Lamar and others spoke.
- ^ Geraldine Brooks (February 2009). "The Vineyard in Winter". Smithsonian magazine. Archived from the original on September 9, 2012.
- ^ "Obituaries". The Martha's Vineyard Times. August 23, 2007. Archived from the original on November 22, 2008.
- ^ "A Life in Writing: John Hersey, 1914–1993". Yale Alumni Magazine. October 1993. Archived from the original on October 18, 2008.
- ^ "2004: The Yale Endowment" (PDF).
- ^ Elizabeth A. Brennan, Elizabeth C. Clarage (1999). Who's Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. [page needed]. ISBN 1-57356-111-8.
- ^ Hersey, John (1968). The Algiers Motel Incident. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc. LCCN 68-31842.
Lesley M. M. Blume (2020). Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World
. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1982128517
Last edited on 11 May 2021, at 14:25
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