I first heard about Gaby Dunn through mutual Emerson College friends (we share the same alma mater). At the time I became acquainted with her work, her personal journalism project 100 Interviews, a deadline-driven exercise to write 100 profiles in a year, was picking up major steam. I remember thinking to myself, Looks like that girl is really going places. But I would have never imagined all of the eclectic places she would end up. First, she left NYC for LA. While there, her other writing pursuits took off as well, from standup comedy, to selling a show called Stem Girls to Nickelodeon Creative Labs, creating a comic book for BOOM! Studios, to acting in short films, and writing various TV pilots. And she did all of this while also contributing to publications like The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, Slate, Rookie, and Thought Catalog. Below, Gaby gets back to her journalism roots to credit the book that made her rethink how reported stories are told. —JL
What one piece of writing has changed the way you think about your own work?
I went to school in Boston for journalism and worked as a crime reporter in a major city for two years. I learned the basics of reporting and I was very focused on gathering facts because I thought of myself as a journalist more so than a writer. I’d become so overwhelmed by making sure the information was correct that I’d often neglect the most beautiful part of writing, which is painting a picture of what you’ve learned for a captivated audience. Facts are great. Dry facts are not. Not only do journalists have to capture and convey truth, but we also have an obligation to make reading enjoyable and I, personally, wanted to find joy in the act of writing. Though it may seem obvious, it hadn’t occurred to me that journalism could be so good as to read like fiction.
The first taste I got of that ability came from reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. The book is classified as narrative non-fiction, so it’s not strict reporting, but it was the first time I read a “true” story that titillated and spooked me. I’m disappointed it wasn’t required reading for all journalism students when I was in college, because it should be. It’s a perfect example of how to craft what you’ve painstakingly learned into a piece of, not just truth, but art. The other amazing example of this is Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family, which the author spent twelve years researching and living among generations of a broken family in the Bronx. Fiction could not have birthed better characters.
In Cold Blood was the gateway for books like LeBlanc’s. I was a journalist, but I had to realize I was also a writer. Capote’s work was aspirational for many creative non-fiction writers, as LeBlanc’s is to me.Photo credit: Nate Williams