Creative nonfiction

Creative nonfiction

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Creative nonfiction is a genre
Genre
Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

 of writing
Writing
Writing is the representation of language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols . It is distinguished from illustration, such as cave drawing and painting, and non-symbolic preservation of language via non-textual media, such as magnetic tape audio.Writing most likely...

 that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as technical writing
Technical writing
Technical writing, a form of technical communication, is a style of writing used in fields as diverse as computer hardware and software, engineering, chemistry, the aerospace industry, robotics, finance, consumer electronics, and biotechnology....

 or journalism
Journalism
Journalism is the practice of investigation and reporting of events, issues and trends to a broad audience in a timely fashion. Though there are many variations of journalism, the ideal is to inform the intended audience. Along with covering organizations and institutions such as government and...

, which is also rooted in accurate fact, but is not primarily written in service to its craft. As a genre, creative nonfiction is still relatively young, and is only beginning to be scrutinized with the same critical analysis given to fiction
Fiction
Fiction is the form of any narrative or informative work that deals, in part or in whole, with information or events that are not factual, but rather, imaginary—that is, invented by the author. Although fiction describes a major branch of literary work, it may also refer to theatrical,...

 and poetry
Poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

. It is sometimes referred as docufiction
Docufiction
Docufiction is a neologism which refers to the cinematographic combination of documentary and fiction. More precisely, it is a documentary contaminated with fictional elements, in real time, filmed when the events take place, and in which someone - the character - plays his own role in real life...

.

Characteristics and definition


For a text to be considered creative nonfiction, it must be factually accurate, and written with attention to literary style
Writing style
Writing style is the manner in which an author chooses to write to his or her audience. A style reveals both the writer's personality and voice, but it also shows how she or he perceives the audience, and chooses conceptual writing style which reveal those choices by which the writer may change the...

 and technique. “Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction.” Forms within this genre include personal essays
Essay
An essay is a piece of writing which is often written from an author's personal point of view. Essays can consist of a number of elements, including: literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. The definition...

, memoir
Memoir
A memoir , is a literary genre, forming a subclass of autobiography – although the terms 'memoir' and 'autobiography' are almost interchangeable. Memoir is autobiographical writing, but not all autobiographical writing follows the criteria for memoir set out below...

, travel writing
Travel writing
Travel writing is a genre that has, as its focus, accounts of real or imaginary places. The genre encompasses a number of styles that may range from the documentary to the evocative, from literary to journalistic, and from the humorous to the serious....

, food writing
Food writing
Food writing is writing that focuses on the topic of food, both widely and narrowly defined.-Definition:Food writer Mark Kurlansky gives the scope of food writing when he observes: “Food is about agriculture, about ecology, about man’s relationship with nature, about the climate, about...

, biography
Biography
A biography is a detailed description or account of someone's life. More than a list of basic facts , biography also portrays the subject's experience of those events...

, literary journalism, and other hybridized essays. Critic Chris Anderson claims that the genre can be understood best by splitting it into two subcategories—the personal essay and the journalistic essay—but the genre is currently defined by its lack of established conventions.

Literary critic Barbara Lounsberry — in her book The Art of Fact — suggests four constitutive characteristics of the genre, the first of which is “Documentable subject matter chosen from the real world as opposed to ‘invented’ from the writer’s mind.” By this, she means that the topics and events discussed in the text verifiably exist in the natural world. The second characteristic is “Exhaustive research,” which she claims allows writers “novel perspectives on their subjects” and “also permits them to establish the credibility of their narratives through verifiable references in their texts.” The third characteristic that Lounsberry claims is crucial in defining the genre is “The scene”. She stresses the importance of describing and revivifying the context of events in contrast to the typical journalistic style of objective reportage. The fourth and final feature she suggests is “Fine writing: a literary prose style”. “Verifiable subject matter and exhaustive research guarantee the nonfiction side of literary nonfiction; the narrative form and structure disclose the writer’s artistry; and finally, its polished language reveals that the goal all along has been literature.”

Creative nonfiction may be structured like traditional fiction narratives, as is true of Fenton Johnson
Fenton Johnson
John Fenton Johnson was born ninth of nine children into a Kentucky whiskey-making family with a strong storytelling tradition.-Life:His most recent book Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey draws on time spent living as a member of the monastic communities of the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in...

's story of love and loss, "Geography of the Heart," and Virginia Holman's "Rescuing Patty Hearst." When book-length works of creative nonfiction follow a story-like arc, they are sometimes called narrative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction often escapes traditional boundaries of narrative altogether, as happens in the bittersweet banter of Natalia Ginzburg
Natalia Ginzburg
Natalia Ginzburg née Levi was an award-winning Italian author whose work explored family relationships, politics during and after the Fascist years and World War II, and philosophy. She wrote novels, short stories and essays, for which she received the Strega Prize and Bagutta Prize...

's essay, "He and I," in John McPhee
John McPhee
John Angus McPhee is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, widely considered one of the pioneers of creative nonfiction....

's hypnotic tour of Atlantic City, "In Search of Marvin Gardens," and in Ander Monson
Ander Monson
-Life:He was raised in Houghton, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. His mother's death when he was seven years old is reflected in the themes of his later fiction. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois...

's playful, experimental essays in "Neck-Deep and Other Predicaments."

Ethics


In recent years, there have been several well-publicized incidents of memoir writers who exaggerated or fabricated certain facts in their work.

In 1998, Swiss writer and journalist Daniel Ganzfried revealed that Binjamin Wilkomirski
Binjamin Wilkomirski
Binjamin Wilkomirski was a name which Bruno Dössekker adopted in his constructed identity as a Holocaust survivor and published author...

's memoir Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood detailing his experiences as a child survivor of the Holocaust, contained factual inaccuracies.

The James Frey
James Frey
James Christopher Frey is an American writer. His books A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard , as well as Bright Shiny Morning , were bestsellers...

 controversy hit in 2006, when The Smoking Gun
The Smoking Gun
The Smoking Gun is a website that posts legal documents, arrest records, and police mugshots on a daily basis. The intent is to bring to the public light information that is damning, shocking, outrageous, or amazing, yet also somewhat obscure or unreported by more mainstream media sources...

 website revealed that Frey's memoir, A Million Little Pieces
A Million Little Pieces
A Million Little Pieces is a semi-fictional memoir by James Frey. It tells the story of a 23-year-old alcoholic and drug abuser and how he copes with rehabilitation in a Twelve steps-oriented treatment center...

,
contained experiences that turned out to be fabrications.

In 2008, the New York Times featured an article about the memoirist Margaret Seltzer
Margaret Seltzer
Margaret Seltzer is an American writer. Her first book, Love and Consequences: A Memoir of Hope and Survival , about her alleged experiences growing up as a half white, half Native American foster child and Bloods gang member in South Central Los Angeles, was proven to be fictitious...

, whose pen name is Margaret B. Jones. Her publisher Riverhead Books
Riverhead Books
Riverhead Books is a division of Penguin Group .Notable books and major bestsellers published by Riverhead include Journals by Kurt Cobain; The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama; The Color of Water by James McBride; Native Speaker, A Gesture Life, and Aloft by Chang-rae Lee; Fever...

 canceled the publication of Seltzer's book, "Love and Consequences," when it was revealed that Seltzer's story of her alleged experiences growing up as a half white, half Native American foster child and Bloods gang member in South Central Los Angeles were fictitious.

Although there have been instances of traditional and literary journalists falsifying their stories, the ethics applied to creative nonfiction are the same as those that apply to journalism. The truth is meant to be upheld, just told in a literary fashion.

Literary criticism


To date, there is very little published literary criticism
Literary criticism
Literary criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals...

 of nonfiction works, despite the fact that the genre is often published in respected publications such as The New Yorker
The New Yorker
The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

, Vanity Fair
Vanity Fair (magazine)
Vanity Fair is a magazine of pop culture, fashion, and current affairs published by Condé Nast. The present Vanity Fair has been published since 1983 and there have been editions for four European countries as well as the U.S. edition. This revived the title which had ceased publication in 1935...

, Harper's and Esquire
Esquire (magazine)
Esquire is a men's magazine, published in the U.S. by the Hearst Corporation. Founded in 1932, it flourished during the Great Depression under the guidance of founder and editor Arnold Gingrich.-History:...

. A handful of the most widely recognized writers in the genre such as Gay Talese
Gay Talese
Gay Talese is an American author. He wrote for The New York Times in the early 1960s and helped to define literary journalism...

, Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe
Thomas Kennerly "Tom" Wolfe, Jr. is a best-selling American author and journalist. He is one of the founders of the New Journalism movement of the 1960s and 1970s.-Early life and education:...

, John McPhee
John McPhee
John Angus McPhee is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, widely considered one of the pioneers of creative nonfiction....

, Joan Didion
Joan Didion
Joan Didion is an American author best known for her novels and her literary journalism. Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation...

 and Norman Mailer
Norman Mailer
Norman Kingsley Mailer was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, and film director.Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Hunter S...

, have seen some criticism on their more prominent works. “Critics to date, however, have tended to focus on only one or two of each writer’s works, to illustrate particular critical points.” These analyses of a few key pieces are hardly in-depth or as comprehensive as the criticism and analyses of their fictional contemporaries. As the popularity of the genre continues to expand, many nonfiction authors and a handful of literary critics are calling for more extensive literary analysis of the genre.

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