July 21, 2015 § Leave a comment
Profane is accepting creative nonfiction submissions through the end of July.
We’re a print and audio journal featuring the best and bravest writing we can find. We record every poem and piece of prose we publish in the author’s own voice, along with a short interview.
Only in our second year, our contributors already include Maggie Nelson, Alex Lemon, David Clewell, Devin Murphy, and Deborah Thompson, among many other incredibly talented writers.
We tend to like nonfiction that mixes research and narrative, that teaches us about the world we live in while telling an essential story.
For a sample of what we like, Read and Listen to Elizabeth Horneber’s personal essay, “Contagion,” at http://www.profanejournal.com/elizabeth-horneber-lissa-mae.html. All the work from our inaugural issue is currently being archived on our website.
We look forward to reading your work!
For more info, you can check us out at
July 20, 2015 § Leave a comment
As someone who’s “made” found art and “written” found essays, I find it a hard genre to defend and not only because I need annoying quotation marks. The charges against it seem fair. It’s art that allows anything and everything to be art. (Rotting cow’s head, anyone?) It requires no real talent from the artist. It’s gimmicky, pretentious, and often consumerist. Moreover, with its chair caning, urinals, bicycle wheels, shark carcasses, unmade beds, and dirty underwear, it’s usually not that good.
Sure, I might reply that found art takes us beyond notions of good and bad, into the realm of the pure aesthetic experience, or that it exposes the nature of artistic choice, but I’d I sound so obnoxious. As if I don’t really care about art. And I do. In fact, one reason why I care about found art comes from another: literary nonfiction. I see the two in conversation, since often what I’m trying to capture in my writing is something that pre-exists the writing process: an event, a person, even an object. I’ve found something—in the figurative and sometimes literal sense—that I’d like to share with readers. Found art goads me: why don’t I get out of the way and just give what I’ve found directly to them?
It’s not that simple, of course (and here others might make liberal use of quotation marks in arguing how all art entails mediation and transformation, even a seemingly “plain” or “documentary” one), but found art allows for that ideal. And the best found essays, to my mind, preserve that sense of encounter: Here it is, dear reader, in all its complexity. Make of it what you will.
That “it,” that found thing, might be the violence inflicted on the transgender persons, as it’s captured in Torrey Peter’s found essay, “Transgender Day of Remembrance,” or it might be an encounter with one of the last defenders of a flat-earth cosmology, which John D’Agata assembles in “Flat Earth Map: An Essay.” In the case of Mark Ehling’s wonderful new collection, River Dead of Minneapolis Scavenged by Teenagers, the found material comes from overheard stories, snatches of conversation, and odd recollections found in old archives. Ehling is a collector, a curator, and his book is something like a curio cabinet you’d visit in a dream.
Ehling’s pieces fuse together quirky bits of narrative and observation with photographs that he’s found in old trade magazines and on forgotten junk, which he’s stripped down, so that they end up looking coarse and hand-drawn. (Ehling freely shares his process on his Tumblr account.) Characters don’t have faces; setting are sparse or nonexistent. Here’s the book’s opening page:
Welcome to a strange, not always likeable world. And yet, oddly, it’s ours. That’s what I admire so much about Ehling’s work: he’s managed, somehow, to keep the abiding strangeness of so many of those encounters, those arcs of thought and half-heard voices that don’t seem like much at the moment but that you find yourself remembering, days and sometimes years later, almost without trying.
So much of what we experience doesn’t make sense. That guy, making a weird animal noise at the end of the bar, that story granddad told about when he and his dog fought against another man and his dog—but it wasn’t even a story, was it? Because it had no point, and stories have points. These experiences don’t—maybe even won’t—make sense, but they still matter, still carry weight. We find them compelling, although we can’t say why, perhaps precisely because they won’t yield to our question, “Why?”
And that’s one way to describe Ehling’s pieces. They’re like those odds and ends that you come across in a ramshackle antique store or an abandoned warehouse and you can’t help but pick up. They’re knickknacks and they’re nothings. They’re wonders and they’re junk. They’re curiosities you feel lucky to have found.
Eric LeMay’s latest collection, In Praise of Nothing, includes a found essay from Roger Ascham’s 1545 Toxophilus: the schole of shootinge contayned in tvvo bookes.
July 17, 2015 § 1 Comment
This essay from our fearless editor Dinty W. Moore circulated earlier this week, but the Creative Nonfiction magazine website had a glitch denying anyone access to the comments thread, so here we go again. You can now visit the comment thread and complain about the ambiguous term all you want now.
July 17, 2015 § Leave a comment
Tom Montgomery Fate offers a thoughtful and enlightening look at the misuse of the term creative nonfiction in light of Rachel Dolezal’s recent use of the term. Here’s an excerpt, followed by a link to the full essay:
Dolezal’s misunderstanding of creative nonfiction is not hers alone. And it may reveal something about our culture’s increasing tendency to blur facts and truth when it’s convenient or entertaining. The perpetual tsunami of “news” on a 24-7 cycle, and the lightning speed of new technologies — smart phones for instance — makes this blurring both easier to practice and to identify. And as more people experiment with constructing multiple identities — on Facebook and other online communities — the virtual truth of personal identity may sometimes veil or distort the actual. If NBC news anchor Brian Williams had not been caught in the “creative nonfiction” that he came under enemy fire in Iraq in 2003, this virtual fact might have appeared in his memoir (which he needn’t now write). Should the economic opportunities be irresistible, and Dolezal decide to tell her “black is the new white” story in a memoir, the actual and virtual truths may again blur.
When we discuss fact and truth in the creative nonfiction classes I teach, we often read “The Site of Memory,” an essay by Toni Morrison, in which she reminds readers that while facts are random and do not require human intelligence, literary truth is not random and does require human intelligence. We spend significant time talking about what Morrison means-about why/how/when we can distinguish between fact and truth in our own work. That’s sometimes not as easy as it sounds.
The two facts I listed above about Dolezal are empirical — provable. That is one of the qualities of a fact. Right? It’s a fact that my teenaged son is 5 feet 9 inches tall. However, that fact was not true last year. It’s a fact that there are seeds in a watermelon. Or, well, at least that was a fact when I was a kid. Now there are seedless hybrids. It was once a fact that the world was flat. Another wrinkle: empiricism is relative and facts evolve. “Facts are facts,” but they can be wildly manipulated — often by politicians and corporations — to “prove” the truth they must construct in order to get elected or to sell stuff.
July 15, 2015 § 3 Comments
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.
July 14, 2015 § 3 Comments
In the NY Times Sunday Book Review, Noelle Howey examines those awkward moments when a memoirist’s children are old enough to read the book. An excerpt below followed by a link to her entire article:
The moment I walked out of the closet, I eagerly climbed onto a soapbox. If a thought felt taboo or inappropriate, that meant it warranted — no, demanded — expression. So I shared how, at the age of 9, I made out with a neighborhood companion. How at 15, I implored my boyfriend to have sex. How I stole my mother’s lingerie, and wore it while humping a door frame.
I could go on, but I won’t — largely because, somewhere in my 30s, I developed the ability to become embarrassed. I’m no longer quite as thrilled that all my youthful misadventures have their own I.S.B.N. And practically speaking, my book’s tell-all nature has complicated my life as a parent. For example, if my middle-school-age daughter ever asks me when I lost my virginity, I have to tell her the truth. After all, it’s searchable on Google Books.
July 9, 2015 § 4 Comments
Imagine you are stranded in an airport — O’Hare let’s say, or God forbid Newark — and all of a sudden you feel the overwhelming need to read up on all of the nonfiction writing and publishing news right this very instant, but all you have is your phone? What do you do then?
Easy peasy. You do this: