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Author Gay Talese awarded Illinois Prize in Journalism, to appear on Focus on WILL 580AM

11/4/2010  10:00 am

Gay Talese imageGay Talese, the author of acclaimed books and articles on topics as varied as the Mafia, sports, immigration, the sexual revolution, The New York Times, and Frank Sinatra, was named this year’s recipient of the Illinois Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism.

The prize was awarded Friday (Nov. 5) at the Waldorf=Astoria, 301 Park Ave., in New York City, following an evening reception and dinner. In addition, Talese will be interviewed on Focus, Illinois Public Media's global affairs and daily life radio program, on 580AM Friday, Nov. 12 at 11:07 a.m. (CST).

Talese is the fourth journalist to receive the annual award. The previous winners are Mike Wallace, Benjamin Bradlee, and Seymour Hersh.

The Illinois Prize honors individuals whose career contributions to public affairs reporting “represent the highest and best achievements of American journalism.” The recipient is selected annually by the University of Illinois journalism faculty to honor “work that consistently served as a beacon for other journalists, set the highest standards of excellence in the field, and placed the public good and public awareness before all else.”

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“Gay Talese changed American journalism forever by recognizing that artistry and factuality can co-exist,” said Walt Harrington, professor of journalism and chair of the Illinois Prize committee. “During his half-century career Talese has told accurate, in-depth, evocative stories that have become the rod by which narrative journalism is judged. He is the gold standard, and we hope that aspiring young journalists will reach to achieve it.”

Talese, 78, began his journalism career as a high school student, writing for the local Sentinel-Ledger in Ocean City, N.J. After graduation from the University of Alabama, he worked as a copyboy at The New York Times, then served a brief stint in the Army before returning to the Times in 1956 as a reporter. He left the paper in 1965, and has since written for numerous publications, including Esquire, Harper’s Magazine, The New Yorker, and Newsweek.

Among the pieces that gained Talese early attention was an April 1966 profile in Esquire headlined “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” which the magazine in 2003 would name as the “best story Esquire ever published.”

The Sinatra piece and others by Talese have been cited as examples of “The New Journalism,” a form of literary journalism and nonfiction that gained prominence in the 1960s and 1970s. Writer Tom Wolfe has even credited Talese with the form’s creation.

Talese is the author of 11 books, among them “The Kingdom and the Power,” about the history and influence of The New York Times; “Honor Thy Father,” the inside story of a Mafia family; “Thy Neighbor’s Wife,” a personal exploration of America’s sexual landscape in the era before AIDS; and “Unto the Sons,” a historical memoir about his family’s immigration from Italy to the U.S. in the years before World War II.

Other books include “The Bridge,” about the building of the Verrazano-Narrows bridge between Brooklyn and Staten Island; “A Writer’s Life,” a memoir about the interplay between writing and experience; and, most recently, “The Silent Season of a Hero,” a collection of his sports journalism.

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