Creative nonfiction

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Creative nonfiction (also known as literary nonfiction or narrative nonfiction or verfabula [1] ) is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as academic or technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact but is not written to entertain based on prose style.

Contents

Characteristics and definition

For a text to be considered creative nonfiction, it must be factually accurate, and written with attention to literary style and technique. "Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction." [2] Forms within this genre include biography, autobiography, memoir, diary, travel writing, food writing, literary journalism, chronicle, personal essays, and other hybridized essays. According to Vivian Gornick, "A memoir is a tale taken from life—that is, from actual, not imagined, occurrences—related by a first-person narrator who is undeniably the writer. Beyond these bare requirements it has the same responsibility as the novel or the short story: to shape a piece of experience so that it moves from a tale of private interest to one with meaning for the disinterested reader." Critic Chris Anderson really claims that the genre can be understood best by splitting it into two subcategories—the personal essay and the journalistic essay—but the genre is currently defined by its lack of established conventions. [3]

Literary critic Barbara Lounsberry—in her book, The Art of Fact—suggests four constitutive characteristics of the genre, the first of which is "Documentable subject matter chosen from the real world as opposed to 'invented' from the writer's mind". [4] By this, she means that the topics and events discussed in the text verifiably exist in the natural world. The second characteristic is "Exhaustive research," [4] which she claims allows writers "novel perspectives on their subjects" and "also permits them to establish the credibility of their narratives through verifiable references in their texts". [5] The third characteristic that Lounsberry claims is crucial in defining the genre is "The scene". She stresses the importance of describing and revivifying the context of events in contrast to the typical journalistic style of objective reportage. [6] The fourth and final feature she suggests is "Fine writing: a literary prose style". "Verifiable subject matter and exhaustive research guarantee the nonfiction side of literary nonfiction; the narrative form and structure disclose the writer's artistry; and finally, its polished language reveals that the goal all along has been literature." [7]

Creative nonfiction may be structured like traditional fiction narratives, as is true of Fenton Johnson's story of love and loss, Geography of the Heart, [8] and Virginia Holman's Rescuing Patty Hearst . [9] When book-length works of creative nonfiction follow a story-like arc, they are sometimes called narrative nonfiction. Other books, such as Daniel Levitin's This Is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs , use elements of narrative momentum, rhythm, and poetry to convey a literary quality. Creative nonfiction often escapes traditional boundaries of narrative altogether, as happens in the bittersweet banter of Natalia Ginzburg's essay, "He and I", in John McPhee's hypnotic tour of Atlantic City, In Search of Marvin Gardens, and in Ander Monson's playful, experimental essays in Neck-Deep and Other Predicaments.

Creative nonfiction writers have embraced new ways of forming their texts—including online technologies—because the genre leads itself to grand experimentation. Dozens of new journals have sprung up—both in print and online—that feature creative nonfiction prominently in their offerings.

Ethics and accuracy

Writers of creative or narrative non-fiction often discuss the level, and limits, of creative invention in their works and justify the approaches they have taken to relating true events. Melanie McGrath, whose book Silvertown, an account of her grandmother’s life, is "written in a novelist's idiom", [10] writes in the follow-up, Hopping, that the known facts of her stories are "the canvas on to which I have embroidered. Some of the facts have slipped through the holes—we no longer know them nor have any means of verifying them—and in these cases I have reimagined scenes or reconstructed events in a way I believe reflects the essence of the scene or the event in the minds and hearts of the people who lived through it. ... To my mind this literary tinkering does not alter the more profound truth of the story." [11] This concept of fact vs. fiction is elaborated upon in Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola's book Tell It Slant.Nuala Calvi, authors of The Sugar Girls , a novelistic story based on interviews with former sugar-factory workers, make a similar point: "Although we have tried to remain faithful to what our interviewees have told us, at a distance of over half a century many memories are understandably incomplete, and where necessary we have used our own research, and our imaginations, to fill in the gaps. ... However, the essence of the stories related here is true, as they were told to us by those who experienced them at first hand." [12]

In recent years, there have been several well-publicized incidents of memoir writers who exaggerated or fabricated certain facts in their work. [13] For example:

Although there have been instances of traditional and literary journalists falsifying their stories, the ethics applied to creative nonfiction are the same as those that apply to journalism. The truth is meant to be upheld, just told in a literary fashion. Essayist John D'Agata explores the issue in his 2012 book The Lifespan of a Fact . It examines the relationship between truth and accuracy, and whether it is appropriate for a writer to substitute one for the other. He and fact-checker Jim Fingal have an intense debate about the boundaries of creative nonfiction, or "literary nonfiction".

Literary criticism

There is very little published literary criticism of creative nonfiction works, despite the fact that the genre is often published in respected publications such as The New Yorker , Vanity Fair , Harper's , and Esquire . [16] A handful of the most widely recognized writers in the genre such as Robert Caro, Gay Talese, Joseph Mitchell, Tom Wolfe, John McPhee, Joan Didion, John Perkins, Ryszard Kapuściński, Helen Garner and Norman Mailer have seen some criticism on their more prominent works. "Critics to date, however, have tended to focus on only one or two of each writer's works, to illustrate particular critical points." [17] These analyses of a few key pieces are hardly in-depth or as comprehensive as the criticism and analyses of their fictional contemporaries[ citation needed ]. As the popularity of the genre continues to expand, many nonfiction authors and a handful of literary critics are calling for more extensive literary analysis of the genre.

"If, these four features delimit an important art form of our time, a discourse grounded in fact but artful in execution that might be called literary nonfiction, what is needed is serious critical attention of all kinds to this work: formal criticism (both Russian formalism and New Criticism), historical, biographical, cultural, structuralist and deconstructionist, reader-response criticism and feminist (criticism)." [17]

"Nonfiction is no longer the bastard child, the second class citizen; literature is no longer reified, mystified, unavailable. This is the contribution that poststructuralist theory has to make to an understanding of literary nonfiction, since poststructuralist theorists are primarily concerned with how we make meaning and secure authority for claims in meaning of language." [18]

See also

Related Research Articles

Nonfiction or non-fiction is content that purports in good faith to represent truth and accuracy regarding information, events, or people. Nonfiction content may be presented either objectively or subjectively, and may sometimes take the form of a story. Nonfiction is one of the fundamental divisions of narrative writing— in contrast to fiction, which offers information, events, or characters expected to be partly or largely imaginary, or else leaves open if and how the work refers to reality.

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Annie Dillard American author

Annie Dillard is an American author, best known for her narrative prose in both fiction and non-fiction. She has published works of poetry, essays, prose, and literary criticism, as well as two novels and one memoir. Her 1974 work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. From 1980, Dillard taught for 21 years in the English department of Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut.

Joan Didion American writer

Joan Didion is an American writer. In the late 1960s, Didion's reportage brought Californian subcultures to wider attention. Her political writing often concentrated on the subtext of rhetoric. In 1991, she wrote the earliest mainstream media article to suggest the Central Park Five had been wrongfully convicted. In 2005, she won the National Book Award for Nonfiction and was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Biography/Autobiography for The Year of Magical Thinking. She later adapted the book into a play, which premiered on Broadway in 2007. In 2017, Didion was profiled in the Netflix documentary The Center Will Not Hold, directed by her nephew Griffin Dunne.

New Journalism is a style of news writing and journalism, developed in the 1960s and 1970s, which uses literary techniques deemed unconventional at the time. It is characterized by a subjective perspective, a literary style reminiscent of long-form non-fiction and emphasizing "truth" over "facts", and intensive reportage in which reporters immersed themselves in the stories as they reported and wrote them. This was in contrast to traditional journalism where the journalist was typically "invisible" and facts are reported as objectively as possible. The phenomenon of New Journalism is generally considered to have ended by the early 1980s.

Creative writing is any writing that goes outside the bounds of normal professional, journalistic, academic, or technical forms of literature, typically identified by an emphasis on narrative craft, character development, and the use of literary tropes or with various traditions of poetry and poetics. Due to the looseness of the definition, it is possible for writing such as feature stories to be considered creative writing, even though they fall under journalism, because the content of features is specifically focused on narrative and character development. Both fictional and non-fictional works fall into this category, including such forms as novels, biographies, short stories, and poems. In the academic setting, creative writing is typically separated into fiction and poetry classes, with a focus on writing in an original style, as opposed to imitating pre-existing genres such as crime or horror. Writing for the screen and stage—screenwriting and playwriting—are often taught separately, but fit under the creative writing category as well.

Narrative journalism, also referred to as literary journalism, is defined as creative nonfiction that contains accurate, well-researched information. It is related to immersion journalism, where a writer follows a subject or theme for a long period of time and details an individual's experiences from a deeply personal perspective.

Fiction writing is the composition of non-factual prose texts. Fictional writing often is produced as a story meant to entertain or convey an author's point of view. The result of this may be a short story, novel, novella, screenplay, or drama, which are all types of fictional writing styles. Different types of authors practice fictional writing, including novelists, playwrights, short story writers, radio dramatists and screenwriters.

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Lee Gutkind is an American writer, speaker, and literary innovator, founder of the literary magazine Creative Nonfiction, the first and the largest literary journal to publish narrative/creative nonfiction exclusively. Disparagingly spotlighted in Vanity Fair Magazine in 1997 as "the Godfather behind creative nonfiction", Gutkind has been its most active advocate and practitioner both as editor and writer.

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References

  1. http://asnotedin.com/?action=attribute&id=t5922
  2. Gutkind, Lee (2007). The Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol. 1. New York: W. W. Norton. pp.  xi. ISBN   0-393-33003-6.
  3. Anderson, page ix.
  4. 1 2 Lounsberry, Barbara (1990). The art of fact: contemporary artists of nonfiction. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. xiii. ISBN   0-313-26893-2.
  5. Lounsberry, page xiii-xiv
  6. Lounsberry, page xiv-xv
  7. Lounsberry, page xv
  8. Johnson, Fenton (1 June 1997). Geography of the Heart. Scribner. ISBN   978-0671009830.
  9. Holman, Virginia (February 25, 2003). Rescuing Patty Hearst: Memories From a Decade Gone Mad (1st ed.). Simon & Schuster. ISBN   978-0743222853.
  10. McKay, Sinclair (28 April 2002). "Life is Sweets". The Telegraph . Retrieved 2012-03-04.
  11. McGrath, Melanie (2009). Hopping. 4th Estate. pp. xiv–xv. ISBN   978-0-00-722365-7.
  12. Barrett and Calvi, Duncan and Nuala (2012). The Sugar Girls. Collins. pp.  337–338. ISBN   978-0-00-744847-0.
  13. "Creative Nonfiction, Issue. 38, Spring 2010": 7–13. ISSN   1070-0714.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. Daniel Ganzfried, translated from the German by Katherine Quimby Johnson. "Die Geliehene Holocaust-Biographie (The Purloined Holocaust Biography)". Die Weltwoche. Retrieved 2010-12-31.
  15. Wyatt, Edward (2006-01-10). "Best-Selling Memoir Draws Scrutiny". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-01-24.
  16. Gutkind, Lee (1997). The Art of Creative Nonfiction: Writing and Selling the Literature of Reality. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp.  8. ISBN   0-471-11356-5.
  17. 1 2 Lounsberry, page xvi
  18. Anderson, Chris (1989). Literary nonfiction: theory, criticism, pedagogy. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. xix–x. ISBN   0-8093-1405-3.

Further reading

Chronological order of publication (oldest first)