Other literary forms
John Hersey is as well known for his nonfiction as he is for his novels. As a young journalist in World War II, Hersey wrote for Time and Life, interviewing such figures as Japan’s foreign minister Matsuoka, Ambassador Joseph Grew, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. His first book, Men on Bataan (1942), was written in New York from files and clippings; his second, Into the Valley: A Skirmish of the Marines (1943), from his own experiences. Hiroshima (1946), generally considered to be his most important book, was based on a series of interviews. After Hiroshima, he concentrated on writing novels for twenty years, though he often employed the techniques of interviewing and research to establish a factual basis for his novels. Here to Stay: Studies in Human Tenacity (1962) reprinted Hiroshima and a number of other interviews with people who had survived similar horrors, such as the Warsaw Ghetto. The Algiers Motel Incident (1968) was based on research and interviews concerning the Detroit police killing of three African Americans during a period of riots. Letter to the Alumni (1970) was a portrait of Yale University during May Day demonstrations, and The President (1975) followed President Gerald R. Ford on a typical day. Life Sketches (1989) is a book of autobiographical pieces.
Hersey’s collections of short stories include Fling, and Other Stories (1990). Blues (1987), also classified as short fiction, is an idiosyncratic book about bluefishing, cast in the form of a dialogue between a fisherman and a curious stranger and interspersed with poems by Elizabeth Bishop, James Merrill, and others. Hersey also edited The Writer’s Craft (1974), an anthology of famous writers’ comments on the aesthetics and techniques of literary creation.