On Teaching CNF to Undergraduates
November 30, 2011 § 2 Comments
Brevity contributor William Bradley defends the teaching of creative nonfiction to traditional undergraduates today on Bedford/St. Martin’s Lit Bits blog. He makes more than a few good points, including this one about finding authenticity through persona:
While some writers, like Phillip Lopate, suggest that a nonfiction form like the personal essay is more suited for middle-aged people (who are, presumably, prone to reflection), I believe that it’s important for students to examine and write about their lives. I know the complaints about college students’ supposed self-absorption, and I feel like it’s lately become fashionable to bemoan our students’ interest in writing about their own lives. The suggestion is that writing about the self — particularly the young self, the self who hasn’t experienced very much of the world — convinces students that they can be writers without taking risks that involve experiences, adventures, and other people.
I don’t subscribe to that theory … When I ask my college students to write nonfiction, I am asking them to disregard the superficial, melodramatic narratives that tend to pass for reality in our popular culture and, instead, dig deeper. A show like Bad Girls Club or Road Rules traffics in abstraction and stereotypes, but in memoir and essay writing, we’re looking for the concrete, for the unique individual consciousness. We’re stripping away the constructed persona and focusing instead on the person, with all of the complexity and contradictions that would be sure to get her application to live in the Jersey Shore beach house rejected.