August 15, 2017 § 7 Comments
It’s time once again for the intermittent Brevity Podcast! Listen right from this post, or click over to iTunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher. If you’re subscribed, we’ll show up in your podcast app queue. And wherever you listen or download us, please take a moment to leave a brief review–it helps us show up in searches and recommendations.
Episode #5 features an interview with Dinty W. Moore, our very own Editor in Chief and founder of Brevity. Dinty will be keynote speaking at the Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference September 8-10 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Show notes and links to people, places and things we’ve discussed are below. Next episode, we’ll be talking with Donna Talarico-Beerman, Editor in Chief at Hippocampus and the Hippocampus Press.
Show Notes: Episode #5 People and Books
It’s the wrong time of year for Peeps, but catch them around Easter. If you’re looking for Samuel Pepys, find out more here. You can also read his exhaustive diary, one of the great records of 17th-Century London, including eyewitness reports of the Plague and the Great Fire of London.
March 14, 2016 § 3 Comments
Ovenbird Books will soon release frequent Brevity contributor Brenda Miller’s new essay collection, An Earlier Life. With this title, Ovenbird Books launches its new incarnation as Judith Kitchen’s Ovenbird Books, in honor of our friend Judith Kitchen, a fine writer and dedicated editor and teacher who died in 2014.
Judith Kitchen’s Ovenbird Books promotes innovative, imaginative, and experimental works of creative nonfiction. B.J. Hollars says of An Earlier Life: “Each essay’s a revelation, an untangling, an epiphany whispered in our ears.”
January 27, 2015 § 2 Comments
Michael Steinberg, founding editor of the journal Fourth Genre and co-editor of the textbook/anthology of the same name, pays tribute to CNF pioneer Judith Kitchen on his blog this week. Steinberg acknowledges Kitchen for being “one of the first people who wrote, taught, and could speak with authority on/about what we’ve come to describe as ‘creative nonfiction’.” She certainly was, and Judith was among the most generous of literary figures as well.
She is greatly missed. Michael’s blog tribute, with excerpts from Kitchen’s essay “Mending Wall,” is well worth a read, including this gem of a paragraph, quoting Judith on the overuse of the term lyric essay:
This past year, I attended a reading of “lyric essays,” and nothing I heard was, to my mind, lyric. My ears did not quicken. My heart did not skip. What I heard was philosophical meditation, truncated memoir, slipshod research, and just-plain-discursive opinion. A wall of words. But not a lyric essay among them. The term had been minted (brilliantly, it seems to me) by Deborah Tall, then almost immediately undermined. Not all essays are lyric. Repeat. Not all essays are lyric. Not even all short essays are lyric. Some are merely short. Or plainly truncated. Or purely meditative. Or simply speculative. Or. Or. Or. But not lyric. Because, to be lyric, there must be a lyre.
April 8, 2014 § 5 Comments
An interview with Sean Prentiss, one of the editors of The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre, a new anthology of craft essays published by Michigan State University Press. Steve Coughlin interviews Prentiss on his motivation for putting The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre together and his thoughts on what to expect as this genre continues to expand and be redefined:
Where did you come up with this idea and how does it differ from other creative nonfiction anthologies?
SP: When I was in graduate school at the University of Idaho in 2006, I loved the discussions about creative nonfiction that we’d have in Mary Clearman Blew’s Techniques of Creative Nonfiction. But it often seemed as if it was just our class talking to ourselves, we were dancing in tight circles. There was no larger conversation going on that we could be a part of. There were no articles written about the pedagogy of creative nonfiction that we were aware of. So we had nothing to push us further into a discussion on what creative nonfiction is or where it could go or how it could challenge itself.
That void made me want to find the splintered conversations going on in classrooms and bars and conferences and bring them together in a collection that creative nonfiction writers could gather around and join in with.
And what we were going for here is to find the newest conversations, the ones farthest away from the center. So our writers do not wrestle often with the more traditional ideas. Instead, they linger of the edges.
What are some of the important conversations The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre explores and why are these conversations important in a larger context?
SP: Our authors explore a wide range of conversations, which is one of the fun things about this anthology. It meanders across and deeper into so much of creative nonfiction. Mary Clearman Blew leads us into her entry into creative nonfiction, which allows us to see how our view of creative nonfiction has evolved in the few decades since creative nonfiction has been taught on campuses. Brenda Miller, Ander Monson, and Jon Rovner all look at how technology affects creative nonfiction. Nancer Ballard and Bob Shacochis examine the use of time in creative nonfiction. Erik Reece writes about the need to bear witness in our writings. Lee Barnes, Joe Wilkins, and I delve into different corners of memory. And Kim Barnes and Brevity‘s Dinty W. Moore examine why we write and how to boil that reason to the surface of our writings.
These conversations are important because they allow writers more space to play, more styles to write within, more borders to explore, more questions to ask, more answers to contemplate.
How could this anthology supplement the classroom experience for creative writing students?
SP: When I taught senior level creative nonfiction classes, I often had to piece together readings for my students. I kept looking for a single text that advanced students (seniors or grad students) could read that would create a semester’s worth of dialog on creative nonfiction and re-shape how they write creative nonfiction. So this book is designed to fill that niche.
Judith Kitchen offers an essay that is also a writing prompt on speculation. Robin Hemley teaches us about interpreting life. Joy Castro shares her beautifully written essay, “Grip,” and then she explains how and why she wrote “Grip.” So the reader gets an insider’s view of writing, gets to live in the mind of the writer.
How has creative nonfiction evolved over the last few years and what directions do you anticipate it going in the future?
SP: It has moved away from memoir told chronologically, which is what we studied a lot in grad school. Back then, creative nonfiction felt as if it was static, as if there was little room to explore. You started at the beginning of your story and created scenes that carried you to the end.
But that has been blown apart. We have so many experimental slivers of creative nonfiction popping up. The lyrical style that Lia Purpura writes about in her essay “Advice and on Writing ‘Advice.'” The use of translation of a life that Hemley writes about really explodes biography. The heavy use of speculation to arrive at truth that Kitchen delves into. The research heavy essay that Nancer explores. The mythologies of memory that Lee Barnes writes about.
What excites you most about creative nonfiction? What are some potential concerns you have for the genre?
SP: I am excited for the growth within creative nonfiction. There is so much room for so many styles of writers. And that didn’t always seem to be the case.
I’m excited about the new discussions going on in the other anthologies and in magazines and lit journals, all the new pedagogical ideas being discussed. It’s as if we are watching creative nonfiction transform from a teenager to an adult. Individually, I’m excited for our discussions on memory and truth.
I have no concerns about creative nonfiction. I have had plenty of arguments with friends about creative nonfiction—what it is, what it can do, and where it should go. At the end of those debates, I might not agree with my friends’ ideas. But I love the space these disagreements allow. These spaces allow for new styles of creative nonfiction and new ideas on what creative nonfiction is and where it can grow.
Steve Coughlin‘s poems, essays, and stories have appeared in the Gettysburg Review, New Ohio Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, Seneca Review, and Slate.com. He has never won a Pushcart Prize.
March 6, 2014 § 7 Comments
An AWP panel report from Jennifer Ochstein
Exposure is risky, a little embarrassing, but part of the contract. It’s not simply dropping your robe to reveal a bare shoulder or allowing strangers a peek at your thigh. Creative nonfiction requires a stark naked pose.
As panelist Dinah Lenney put it during the Saturday afternoon discussion, The Naked I: Nonfiction’s Exposed Voice, the creative nonfiction writer has to “get naked, stand up and turn around. Slowly.” The effect might cause some to avert their eyes, others to be overcome with desire or jealousy or revulsion, but the authenticity of the exposure is crucial. Without it, creative nonfiction might as well disappear into the self-help section of the bookstore and call it quits.
The creation of the panel stemmed from Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, edited by Margot Singer and Nicole Walker. In it, Singer points to the self-reflective narrative voice that is the living ‘I’, the body of the author. There is no objectivity, only an odd, bracing mix of hubris and humility. While Singer could not attend the discussion, panelist Judith Kitchen explained that the narrative stance in creative nonfiction profoundly influences the voice of the writer. “Creative nonfiction creates a complicit contract with the reader,” Kitchen said. “The voice represents a self so close to the inner self it’s like hearing yourself in the mirror.” That voice is the “stamp of the individual in a world of conformity,” she said. It asks, “Who am I,” in that world and how to find that self within the community.
While the panelists, who also included Barrie Jean Borich, Paul Lisicky, and Ira Sukrungruang, offered up stale dictionary definitions of voice, they proved how useless those definitions are in helping young writers discover their own voices. Sukrungruang, who teaches at the University of South Florida, tells his students they each have at least five voices. By way of example, he points toward his own: French, Thai, Thai-lish (his family language, a blend of Thai and English), the private language between him and his lover, the safe, professional language he uses with his colleagues at university, and the “insecure fat voice” of a man who struggles with weight. Each voice reveals a separate piece of him, but they are wholly him. Those voices are always evolving, different within each narrative journey because each deserves a unique hearing.
Borich referred to this evolution as resistance and desire of the push and pull patterns that present themselves within each narrative. But how to explain it, asked Lisicky? To him, the beauty of exposure is not the full, naked body. The sexiest bodies, he said, are in different stages of undress and concealment.
Creative nonfiction is not a vanishing act, Lenney insisted. “I don’t write to disappear. I write to locate myself.” That location may be as mother, writer, teacher, wife, friend, or other. Locating herself in the narrative allows her to use language to sing for her reader. And perhaps this is where the paradox of the Naked ‘I’ unveils itself. While Lenney said she only feels authentically present in the creative nonfiction genre, she can control the impression readers have of her. “I don’t want to fool you,” she said. “I only want to sing for you in the key of my choosing, the best way I know how.”
Jennifer Ochstein is a writer and teacher who lives in the Midwest. Her work can be found at Brevity, Connotation Press, Hippocampus Magazine, and Hothouse Magazine as well as in The Lindenwood Review and Evening Street Review. Follow her blog at jenniferochstein.com.
March 11, 2013 § 19 Comments
A guest blog from Kathleen Stone:
By the third day of AWP, I thought I couldn’t bear to hear these questions discussed. I thought Lawrence Weschler’s observation about narrative voice and the division of the world between those who know it’s a fiction and those who don’t had been chewed over enough to last me a lifetime. But still, something drew me to the Why Genre Matters panel. Maybe the names of the panelists, or something about the blurb in the conference book drew me in, but whatever it was, I grabbed another cup of coffee and soldiered on.
Nonfictionist and moderator Dinah Lenney led off with her own strong point of view. An author and reader are like two people on a see-saw, with movement and balance between them. When the author doesn’t clue us in, and we don’t know what we hold in our hands, then the see-saw is left with only one person — out of balance and disappointing. There is a diff, and it matters.
Scott Nadelson countered with the oft-made observation that there is no such thing as objectivity. A blurring between genres necessarily follows, and the author can rely on voice and form to tip off the reader to what’s on the page. His recent book, The Next Scott Nadelson, A Life in Progress, may be labeled a memoir, but it comes without a guaranty of accuracy. So maybe there’s no diff at all?
Essayist and critic Sven Birkerts analogized genre to etiquette. Genre distinctions are like rules, necessary for maintaining harmony amid the tensions, but they need not be stultifying, even as please and thank you are not. A psyche that invents and writes about a blue bucket is not very different from a psyche that remembers a blue bucket, but different motivations are at play – – this could have been vs. this happened. Writers of both genres share the act of creation, of giving narrative shape to the work, but for nonfiction writers, the engine is memory.
Poet David Beispiel joined Scott in label bashing. Writers should be free to write whatever they want and label it however they want (or perhaps not at all). Labels exist for the bookseller who wants to know what to order and how to display it, not for the author or reader. I wonder what he thinks about truth in politics – after all, he does write for Politico.
Multi-genre writer Judith Kitchen agreed Weschler was right about narrative voice being a fiction. It’s simply a lens for delivery, involving an aesthetic decision but not a deliberate fabrication. A flood she experienced as a child, which she has repeatedly and variously treated it in her own work, is an actual event seen through different lenses, sometimes intensely and sometimes in passing, but always drawn from memory. Judith concluded with a segue to why we like memoir: it takes the place of gossiping with a neighbor over the clothesline. That clothesline is gone for most of us and we embrace memoir to fill the void.
So, I’m glad I grabbed another cup of coffee and pushed aside my conference fatigue on Saturday morning to hear Why Genre Matters. Or maybe it doesn’t. The panel offered one of the most heady and honest exchanges of AWP.
Kathleen Stone is a writer who lives in Boston. Her work has been published in Points East, a sailing magazine, and she has dreams of many more publications to follow.
March 4, 2013 § 1 Comment
Brevity editor Dinty W. Moore and Brevity contributors Sue William Silverman, Peggy Shumaker, Judith Kitchen, and Ira Sukrungruang will be at the Boston AWP Conference this week to discuss the flash nonfiction form in the panel “Write Short, Think Long: Exploring the Craft of Writing Flash Nonfiction.”
Please join us if you are in town:
Friday, March 8
3:00 pm: The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction contributors Sue William Silverman, Peggy Shumaker, Judith Kitchen, and Ira Sukrungruang discuss the flash nonfiction form in the panel “Write Short, Think Long: Exploring the Craft of Writing Flash Nonfiction.” Room 108, Plaza Level
And immediately following, there will be a signing at the Rose Metal Press Table at the Book Fair:
Friday, March 8
4:30 pm: RMP Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction editor Dinty W. Moore and a number of contributors, including Sue William Silverman, Peggy Shumaker, Judith Kitchen, and Ira Sukrungruang will be signing copies of the Field Guide at the Rose Metal Press bookfair table, B5