Creative Nonfiction

I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.

—Joan Didion

Writing is a way of discovering what you don't already know, of clarifying what you don't understand, of preserving what you value, and of sharing your discoveries with other people.

—Scott Russell Sanders

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.

Creative nonfiction is a product of your exciting times. Obviously, writers have produced "creative" nonfiction—essays, letters, speeches—for centuries. In the last decades of the twentieth century, creative nonfiction emerged as a powerful form of narrative. And in a way, the genre could emerge only late in the last century. Creative nonfiction bleeds the lines between genres, using the precision of language necessary to poetry, the imagination and techniques of fiction, and the revelation of essay writing to create a new form.

Bruce Hoffman of the University of Pittsburgh, states that creative nonfiction, "Alternatively known as 'literary journalism' or the 'literature of fact,'...employs literary techniques and artistic vision usually associated with fiction or poetry to report on actual persons and events." Hoffman identifies "the roots of creative nonfiction" as running "deeply into literary tradition and history. The genre, as currently defined, is broad enough to include nature and travel writing, the personal memoir and essay, as well as 'new journalism,' 'gonzo journalism,' and the 'nonfiction novel.'"

Lee Gutkind, founder and editor of the journal, Creative Nonfiction, elaborates this definition with his journal's introduction to the form.

Dramatic, true stories using scenes, dialogue, close, detailed description and other techniques usually employed by poets and fiction writers about important subjects from politics, to economics, to sports, to the arts and sciences, to racial relations, and family relations.

Creative nonfiction heightens the whole concept and idea of essay writing. It allows a writer to employ the diligence of a reporter, the shifting voices and viewpoints of a novelist, the refined wordplay of a poet, and the analytical modes of the essayist.

Reading Practice

Creative Nonfiction is one of several literary magazines dedicated to the form. Another is Fourth Genre. Search the Web for on-line journals and visit your library. Read The Best American Essay series. Acquaint yourself with several different writers.

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