Fact and fiction

Tracy Daugherty considered himself a fiction writer with no ambition of writing anything else, but the Oklahoma City federal building bombing changed all that.

Although he lived in Oregon, he had spent much of his childhood visiting his grandparents in southwestern Oklahoma, and he felt a strong need to come to Oklahoma City in the aftermath of April 19, 1995.

“I just wanted to come see it and be there,” said Daugherty, who has authored four novels and four nonfiction works. “I had never written nonfiction [at that time] and didn’t intend to. I didn’t know anything about interviewing people. But I went to Oklahoma City and talked to a few people, and it was so compelling. I just thought I had to write about this.”

That resulting work of essays was Five Shades of Shadow. Since then, Daugherty has fluctuated between the worlds of fiction and nonfiction, realms he will discuss at a free lecture at 7 p.m. Tuesday on the University of Central Oklahoma campus in Edmond.

right Tracy Daugherty

“It feels wonderfully liberating to work intensively in one form and then take a break from it and go back to the other,” he said. “It’s fun for me to try to blur the lines between the two forms as much as possible.”

His most recent book, Just One Catch: A Biography of Joesph Heller, chronicles the life of the author of Catch-22. Daugherty is drawn to the lives of writers, having also penned a book on short-story author Donald Barthelme and now working on one about Joan Didion.

He said he was especially intrigued by Heller, whose experiences in World War II became the basis for the sharp satire of Catch-22, because it is such an American tale.

“His life story was so fascinating and fell into so many dramatic styles,” said Daugerty. “He was the child of immigrants, so you had the immigrant
story, and you obviously had the war story. He became an advertising
executive, so you had the corporate workingman’s story, and then he had a
terrible divorce, and so you had the courtroom drama. It was quite fun
to see how his life sort of fit into these different genres.”

Daugherty credits 2003’s Five Shades of Shadow with having cultivated his reporting skills.

“In fiction, one of the things I had been doing up to that point was trying to create a very strong voice on the page for whatever character I was speaking through,” he said. “In listening to other people’s stories, it taught me to pull back and try to erase myself as much as possible, and let their stories stand out.”

Phil Bacharach

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