‘Like a Novel’: Literary Aesthetics, Nonfiction Ethics, and the S-Town podcast

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This article argues that the longform, immersive podcast is a significant site for tracing some of the rapidly changing contexts and ongoing debates of nonfiction storytelling in the twenty-first century. Taking as a case study the phenomenally successful S-Town podcast, the discussion is framed by S-Town journalist and host/producer Bryan Reed’s often-made claim that his podcast is ‘novelistic’. Reed’s description aligns his podcast to a literary tradition: forms of storytelling that work with complex crafting and literary techniques in order to achieve various narrative effects. But while critics and commentators have tended to applaud the literary and aesthetic achievements of the S-Town podcast, they have also raised questions about ethics and representation. In this article, I argue that understanding Reed’s podcast as life writing clarifies how he is using novelistic techniques in order to negotiate and make visible ethical concerns. Whether or not, as the journalist Gay Alcorn argues, S-Town remains ‘morally indefensible’ is not the focus of this discussion. Instead, this article explores S-Town as an example of innovative storytelling in an emerging media, and as a case study for questions of ethics and representation that will continue to characterise nonfiction forms.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalAustralian Literary Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2021


  • podcast
  • storytelling
  • novelistic
  • literary tradition
  • literary techniques
  • narrative


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