Gay Talese Is Not Pathetic

By Jack Limpert

unnamed-1Gay Talese has been a writer for a long time—in 1949, before he went off to college, he had written 311 columns and stories for his hometown paper, the Sentinel-Ledger in Ocean City, New Jersey. He appeared Saturday at a narrative conference at Boston University. Here’s the Boston Globe description of what happened:

Did Gay Talese just say that?

Speaking at a conference at Boston University on Saturday, the legendary journalist-turned-author struggled to answer a question about female writers who inspired him.

He mentioned Nora Ephron and Mary McCarthy, followed by an awkward silence. Finally the 84-year-old writer blurted out: “None.”
The Twitter reaction was brutal. David Beard, executive editor of Public Radio International, called Talese “pathetic.”

Another tweet: Was #Talese being ironic, maybe? Or do you think genuinely obtuse-slash-sexist?

Every week I have a sandwich lunch in Washington with a rotating group of old pro journalists. We all had good careers and enjoy talking about our memorable moments plus current stories, books, and events. It’s comical at times. One of us can be telling a good story and then draw a blank on a name or book title that he or she knows but can’t immediately find in the memory bank.

In my case, I’ll usually remember what I was searching for in five seconds or five minutes. And because we’re all pretty much in the same boat, none of us worry about it. Maybe a little but not a lot.

I don’t know Gay Talese, who is two years older than any of our lunch group. He may be as sharp as he was in 1949 and he may be ironic or obtuse or sexist but my guess is he’s like the rest of us old journalists—he can still be very good but not always on cue.

At this week’s lunch, we’ll probably talk about what happened to him, feel a little sorry for him, but mostly laugh about no longer being so young and so certain of everything.


  1. Steve Weinberg says

    Writing about Gay Talese on Facebook:

    While in Columbia, Missouri, last weekend, I cannot possibly know what Gay Talese actually said in Boston about female journalists, whether the question as posed to him might have been unclear, or whether his explanation after the conference contains an element of damage control.

    But as a veteran journalist who has chatted with Talese in the past, and as an ardent feminist, I have reasons I tend to believe Talese: First, in conversation with me about 10 years ago, he praised female journalists by name. Second, Talese has shown respect for my daughter, a female journalist. Third, Talese loves/respects his book editor wife and photojournalist daughter.

    I realize some folks I know had mixed feelings about Talese as an author and as a private person before the controversial Boston remark. For what it’s worth, I think most of Talese’s newspaper/magazine features and books qualify as excellent. And in my limited interactions with him, I have found him to be a fine human being.

  2. David Maraniss says

    About Gay Talese on Facebook:

    Gay Talese is Gay Talese. I love the man and learned much from his work. He is extremely generous with younger writers.

  3. John Corcoran says

    I agree with Jack. Talese probably blankedwent up on his lines and just couldn’t recall any. I could give you a full page of female writers who have influenced me. Not their names actually, but descriptions, or maybe like a first name or something. Or a nickname. Or if there was a picture, if they had a hat. Same with men. Believe me, you can ask whatshisface, he’ll back me up.

  4. John Corcoran says

    i KNOW “blanked went” isn’t a real word, but I was so busy trying to remember names, I forgot to proof my letter

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