Telling True Stories

This blog is for my students in English 334: Writing Creative Nonfiction at Goshen College. We’ve just started our quest to find out what Creative Nonfiction is by exploring a range of writings–from the personal essay (Seneca, Sei Shonagon) to Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss, recent recipient of the National Book Critic’s Circle Award.

What’s Creative Nonfiction? Lee Gutkind, editor of Creative Nonfiction, calls it “True Stories, Well Told.” Is it distinguishable from literary journalism, the memoir, the “new” journalism, the essay, etc? Who comes up with these labels anyhow?  Phillip Lopate’s anthology, The Personal Essay, demonstrates that people have been writing this sort of thing for about two thousand years, long before it had a literary category.

To understand something of the publishing world’s outlets for nonfiction storytelling, we’re subscribing to Creative Nonfiction, the magazine, and reading, the journal of brief literary nonfiction. Today we discussed the excerpt from Lee Gutkind’s memoir in the 50th anniversary issue of Creative Nonfiction, and essays of choice from Brevity. We’ll also explore some local outlets for creative nonfiction writing, such as Goshen Commons and Edible Michiana, and a homegrown one at Goshen College, the Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing.

All 14 students are keeping Writer’s Notebooks, and 5 of them have elected to do this as a blog. The Writer’s Notebook requires a minimum of 5 entries per week, as a mix of writing exercises and craft notes on readings. I’ve already found that the student blogs offer valuable insights into the writing process for the entire class, so I decided that I would start one, too, and link to theirs. Meanwhile, the students who are keeping their work in a notebook or in the computer will have a time to share as well, either on our Moodle course page, or on a “best of” blog for our class.

On my own blog I plan to post examples, helpful links, writing hints, and some of my attempts at the exercises I’ve assigned.

We’ll see whether I can keep up with my students, who have so many amazing stories to tell from their own lives. I’ve begun the listening, and I’m loving it.

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