Where Did the Term ‘Nonfiction’ Originate?

July 15, 2015 § 3 Comments


Norman Podhoretz

Norman Podhoretz at the Commentary offices in the 1960s

In the latest issue of Creative Nonfiction magazine, Brevity editor Dinty W. Moore traces the origin of the term “creative nonfiction” all the way back to 1969, and Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz.

By coincidence, the Dallas Morning News earlier this week ran an article by George Getschow, director of the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, shedding light on when and where the term “nonfiction” came into common use. Here’s an excerpt from Getschow’s piece:

Richard Rhodes, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who writes both fiction and nonfiction, believes that the worst thing that ever befell literary journalism and narrative nonfiction happened in 1867, when a Boston librarian designated the kind of writing we do with a negative: nonfiction, meaning “Not fiction. … Reminding us that we dwell in the swampy depths beneath poetry and fiction’s golden-lit Olympus.”

When nonfiction was split off from fiction, nonfiction was devalued in the eyes of the academy — a terrible tragedy, Rhodes says. He considers narrative nonfiction — or “verity,” as he likes to call it — a more challenging art form.

Read Moore’s essay in Creative Nonfiction Online

Read Getschow’s article in the Dallas Morning News

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