Creative Nonfiction: Defining the Genre

by Elizabeth Ruth Deyro, Prose Editor

Creative nonfiction is the fusion of creative writing and journalism. On one hand, it uses principles of journalism to build the skeleton of the story, which, as suggested by the tag ‘nonfiction’, demands to be hinged on facts instead of merely the writer’s imagination (as opposed to fiction). On the other hand, it seeks to be “creative” in such a way that it employs literary devices to retell the fact-based narratives.

The genre, as Theodore A. Rees Cheney noted, requires “the skill of the storyteller and the research ability of the reporter.” Creative Nonfiction Magazine expounded on this thought, saying that the genre “allows a writer to employ the diligence of a reporter, the shifting voices and viewpoints of a novelist, the refined wordplay of a poet, and the analytical modes of an essayist.” The multiplicity of personas that a creative nonfiction writer has to embody in the process of writing his piece unveils the complexity demanded by the genre. A writer ought to be versatile and, needless to say, patient throughout the process.

More than this, a writer has to surrender to vulnerability. This is the same as in other genres; however, creative nonfiction demands a more personal insight from the writer. Creative nonfiction, after all, is the attempt to make sense of the complexities—or mundanities—of real life, and retell them in a more compelling, more bearable way. “The writer of creative nonfiction presents the world—or that slice of it he wishes to focus on—through the prism of his own personality,” Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo writes in Creative Nonfiction: An Overview. “[I]t is writing about oneself in relation to the subject at hand,” Bret Lott writes in Toward a Definition of Creative Nonfiction. Whereas journalism leaves no room for one to discuss personal takes on issues, creative nonfiction makes it a point to consider and use a writer’s subjectivity in line with what is being written about. “[B]alance is unnecessary and subjectivity is not only permitted but encouraged,” said Lee Gutkind in The Art of Creative Nonfiction. Creative nonfiction is a reinterpretation of real-life events, without the attempt to change what must be taken as “actual.”

Nevertheless, creative nonfiction is a commitment to stay loyal to the facts for the sake of the story’s accuracy. The genre is all about the author’s calculated use of his freedom. The line between artistic license and transgression in the genre still have blurred spots in my understanding.

It reminds me of what The Great Gatsby’s Nick Carraway called being “within and without.” I cite a person from a work of fiction, which I think should no longer be ironic, considering that the genre itself prides on using borrowed devices from fiction. Carraway curiously went about his days with a sense of detachment from the rest of the world that he was in. He was immersed, but at the same time, he was uninvolved—in the case of creative nonfiction, this might be necessary because, as much as personal connection to the actual event will contribute heavily to the foundation of the piece, events are bound to be misconstrued when perception is tainted with bias and emotion-driven subjectivity.

So then, how do we draw the line between subjectivity and the necessary objectivity in creative nonfiction? Would it even make any difference to know where one ends and the other begins? Would it even matter? Maybe creative nonfiction isn’t so simple after all.

The Struggle to Become a Woman

by Elizabeth Ruth Deyro, Prose Editor

When I was a child, I would write my stories imagining myself as a man. Somehow, I found it hard to see myself as a woman, when I did not know what being a woman meant. I, like every girl my age, had been taught to think that a man is independent and strong. He is capable and wise. He is indestructible and necessary. I wanted my characters to possess the qualities of a man. I wanted myself to possess the qualities of a man, but how can a woman, designed to be subordinate to a man, be ever able to contain these traits?

I was made to wear skirts and dresses, wedges by the age of seven, no matter how
uncomfortable they felt on me. As I grew older, the skirts and sleeves had to be longer, the blouses tighter. I was told I had to learn to wear higher heels. I had to wear a bra to hide my nipples and define my breasts. I could not risk being seen as a distraction to men, but I still had to be attractive enough to get their attention. When I could not pique their interest, I thought it made me less of the girl that I am. Was I not beautiful? Perhaps not. I went on trading dresses for pants, blouses for loose shirts, heels for sneakers. Boys’ clothes felt so much more comfortable than those of the girls. Being a boy felt so much more comfortable than being a girl.

I became the teenage girl whose sexuality puzzled everyone. I started to look like a boy, but my preferences remained the same. I was attracted to men, just as I was expected to. Not long after, my fascination toward the strong personalities of the male grew into a hopeless pursuit of their validation. The clothing I used to despise became my costume, hoping this time around, I could be pretty enough for men. I used the methods only a woman can, slowly dragging my self-respect to the ground as I reach for their approval.

To my younger self, I would write you as many apologies as I could for the rest of my life. You were never meant to become any man’s toy. You were never meant to believe that you were inferior to the male. You did not have to imagine yourself as a man just so you’d feel invincible. Being a woman may be the most difficult task you would ever be given, but it will also be the most fulfilling, when you realize that being a woman is so much more than what you were taught to think. Women thrive in spite of the discrimination; we fight against the stereotypes that cage us. We were not created for the male gaze; we were not made to seek validation from the opposite sex. We were made to create and conquer, to breathe life anew, to hold the universe in our palms and keep its heart beating.

Weighing In: The Purpose of Poetry

by Devon Balwit, Poetry Editor

What is poetry for? Lately, many have weighed in on this topic in the popular press. Why do big events like natural disasters, 9/11, or Trump’s election seem to call it forth? Why do many people hate it? Why do many others continue to produce it? How should one approach it as a reader?

A recent essay in The New Yorker titled “In Defense of Poetry” by Louis Menand examines a number of claims made about poetry’s utility or lack thereof. Of interest is his summation of Ben Lerner’s “The Hatred of Poetry”: “Poems simply cannot do what people want them to do—create timeless moments, or express individual experiences with universal appeal, or create a sense of communal identity, or overturn existing social mores, or articulate ‘a measure of value beyond money.’ All they can do is expose the impossibility of achieving any of these things by writing a poem.”

I disagree that poems “can’t” do these things. They do them all the time. To write a poem is to take a moment—historical or personal—and expand it, first, through the act of writing, and then again through the act of reading.  Does the moment become “universal”? That word is perhaps too large unless you mean the space of intersection with an Other and the finding of commonalities there. The commonalities may not even lie in identity or shared life-experience, but in the power of art to produce shared emotions: nostalgia, indignation, empathy, lust, etc. They create a space apart from the world. (Perhaps this is why we shouldn’t be troubled with liking the work of a poet whose politics we disagree with. Inside their work, we can encounter them in a different space, that of our shared language, or of the creative process itself.)

Poems also frequently overturn existing social mores—perhaps not in the sense of fomenting social movements or inspiring legislation, but in that of an individual sharing information that otherwise wouldn’t be shared publicly, or sharing it in language usually deemed socially inappropriate. We see this when poets write about being victimized, about perpetrating crimes, about acts normally performed behind closed doors. By bringing these taboo events and thoughts into the open, they challenge social mores.

Similarly, too, poetry celebrates a value beyond money. Few poets earn money through publishing, teaching, lecturing, websites, or workshops. Thus, the creation of poetry is largely unpaid as is its dissemination. In fact, I’d venture that this is the source of much of the scorn leveled at those who write and read poetry. Those caught up in the production or enjoyment of capital cannot understand dedication to something that doesn’t pay homage to the currency of this realm.

Menand also paraphrases Matthew Zapruder’s essay “Why Poetry?”: “Where people who are puzzled by poetry go wrong, he thinks, is in expecting poems to say something straightforward about life, to be useful. Poems are really about language—ultimately, about the impossibility of fixed meanings.” I want to step out of this grad-school lingo. Many poems, I’d counter, are quite straightforward. They use simple language and situate themselves in recognizable and commonly-lived experiences. Sometimes, even the most successful poems emerge from the artist’s personal experience. (I think of Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones,” about explaining death and evil to a child.) Poems are evidence of the writer’s grappling with a moment. The fact of a poem is like an intimate stain on a sheet. We know sex occurred. We can imagine it. We didn’t live that encounter with the lover, but the facts of it resonate within us. And what of the “impossibility of fixed meaning”? One does find meaning in or through poems. They don’t mean anything or nothing at all. Perhaps “fixed” is the key term as each reader might enter the poem through a different line or phrase, and the same reader may enter it by a different one the next time they read it.

Perhaps those people who are puzzled by poetry are not really puzzled at all, but rather offended. They don’t want to slow down. They don’t want the apparent slightness of a poem compared to a Netflix series, a movie, or a book. They might be affronted by the gossamer lines asking for “weighty” consideration. They may resent having to work for pleasure in their leisure time.

Menand also intrigues when he notes: “One of Lerner’s chief examples of misplaced expectations for poetry is what he calls ‘nostalgia for a poetry that could supposedly reconcile the individual and the social, and so transform millions of individuals into an authentic People.’” We imagine a “back then” in which children routinely memorized and performed poems in school, or when people kept notion books of notable lines or whole poems. We imagine the pool of poems smaller and thus shared and familiar. I wonder if we are romanticizing the past. Then, as now, only a fraction of extant poems are offered for such activities, usually the most accessible, the best-known, those with the most marked rhythm for ease of memorization, those most likely to carry the audience along. The rest, certainly the most daring or experimental, or those written by “margin-dwelling” writers didn’t find themselves “reconciling individuals into a People,” at best perhaps they brought together a group of friends/compatriots around a café table, or as now, rippled outward among a “friend group” on social media.

I take issue with Zapruder’s lines: “We find genuine questions everywhere in poetry because they direct the lines away from certainty and stasis. In the best poems, often the poet does not know the answer.” A poetry critic always runs the risk of elevating personal preferences to principles. For example: “I prefer ambiguity; thus, the greater the degree of ambiguity, the better the poem.” Many poems that I love examine recognizable themes in language that invites the reader in (see, I am doing it too: elevating my preference to an aesthetic ruler). These poems take the reader to what could be called a “conclusion.” The final line “makes sense.” The poet—gasp!—perhaps even knows where they are going and how they wanted to arrive there. This doesn’t render the poem “static.” We know any given wave will advance over the shore and retreat, but never the same way. Its movement isn’t ambiguous and enigmatic, only variable.

Without being churlish, I confess that I like the final two lines of Menand’s essay best: “I understand that the reason people write poems is the reason people write. They have something to say.” This, indeed, sums up the impulse. I see, read, hear, feel something, and it sparks a desire to respond. It opens the door to the room set apart, that strange room of the mind that is bigger than the whole world, that exists outside of time, unbound by it. The saying of the thing created there is pure pleasure, independent of whether it is read, understood, appreciated, or remunerated. The act of transmuting lived experience or thought into language is all-absorbing.

I would like to end by quoting Menand: “You read this piece…maybe it will change your life. If it does, the change will be very, very tiny, but most change comes in increments. Don’t expect too much out of any one thing. For although the world is hard, words matter. Rock beats scissors. It may take a while, but paper beats rock. At least we hope so.” Our brains are restless tools. Poetry, the making and reading of it, gives this tool its perfect exposition. It is the sought-after perpetuum mobile, the inexhaustible process.

Minute: Pursuit of Happiness & Writing Till the Last Breath

by Kinzey McHale, Prose Editor

I’ve been asked one question too many times over my short life: what do you think you’ll do in life?

To be truthful, I have no set plan for my life. My main goal is to earn my GED and then focus on developing myself. Learning what makes me happy. As of now, that is all my plan contains. No college ideas, no career ideas, no detailed life plan, no rush. I’m living as I go, and learning as I experience new things. I’ve had tremendous pressure on me, from my mom primarily, to excel in school and begin college this fall. My “plan” was just to follow her plan. Unfortunately, that plan fell through in late May of this year. My mom passed away from a heart attack.

Everything happened so quickly. After going to the hospital and saying goodbye to her still body, my little brother and I moved in with our older brother. It all went down over the course of a few hours, from the first signs of her heart attack to seeing her in the hospital. It was immediate and startling having to live with someone we haven’t lived with in years, as well as his girlfriend of two years. I hadn’t known her very well, but I knew my brother and I knew that whoever he chose to live with was a good person. So, we accepted the move to his townhouse in Laurel, Maryland.

It’s been almost two months since my younger brother and I were completely uprooted from our lives in Stevensville, Maryland. We’ve both adjusted fairly well, and are closer than ever before with our older brother and his girlfriend. I’ve gotten closer with her and consider her family, call her my “second sister.” My older brother, who is in his mid-twenties, has shown me business tricks and helped me further my interests. Recently, my laptop broke and he let me use the desktop for a while, until I started to want to write when he was working on it. My “second sister” offered her old laptop, the laptop on which I’m currently writing this piece. That kind gesture has allowed me to continue an incredibly therapeutic hobby.

My mom taught me how to write when I was six years old, citing it a necessary skill in life. Although I knew how to write, I didn’t know how to actually create art. I’ve helped co-workers design event posters, edit short stories, and assist with speeches. The ability to bind letters at a moment’s notice has strengthened numerous work relationships, attracting attention to me and my skill set. Above all the other things she showed me, she taught me how to weave life with words.

My love for reading and writing was nurtured from age six, continuing well into my teens. That’s one reason I’ve been accepted as Minute’s new Prose Editor! I always hoped that having an insatiable appetite for writing would bring me amazing opportunities like this. My hope is to eventually be a fully-employed writer for a magazine publication, whether it be a tiny advice column or a travel spread. Somewhere I can spread what I’ve learned to others, offer a place people can go to for fresh thoughts. I’ll work as hard as I can for a career in which writing is necessary, no matter how much it takes from me.

As long as I have a pen and paper—or in most cases, a laptop—I’ll be writing until my last breath.

Photoem: The Crux of Poetry and Photography

by Carl Scharwath, Art Editor

Is the photograph dependent upon the poem or is the poem dependent upon the photograph?

I love poetry and I love photography, but in my opinion, I find combinations of the two to be difficult to master. One or the other might have to be sacrificed to “fit creatively” with the other.

To borrow from  Frederick Sommer: “If we can feel that whatever finally happens was not done at the expense of the thing photographed, we are okay. But many things, not only in the arts, not only in photography, but in many walks of life, get us rudely tangled with the awareness that one thing has been done at the expense of another. Something was  skinned to the bone; something was absconded with.”

Why not think in terms of their working together, harmony, counterpoint, tension, and of course dialogue? Should we look for the poetry in the photograph or the words giving light to the moment in time captured by the camera? In my work the image is the birth of my idea followed by fragments of poetry to complete the reflection of thought. I have also worked in collaborations with another poet, where the photograph was presented to her and she created the poem to compliment. This adds a new dynamic of two artists attempting to enter the psyche of the others art.

As your new art editor, perhaps you will be inspired to attempt this. I would love to see your work published!

Musicality: What Makes Us Human

by Cindy Song, Editor-in-Chief

The steady flow of uneven beats courses through the cords of my headphones and into my ears. It carries me like a soaring wave, letting me drift away; washes me onshore. Just blue sky, the ground beneath me, and my music. Let us explore what lies awaiting on that fateful island.

Classical music is a night in a fairy tale that speaks of legends: princesses in ballrooms and princes sailing under a million stars. The sound of strings yearning with the deepest pulls from heartstrings combined with brassy crashes that incite apprehension for incidents to come. Every note tells a tale, one piece of a seemingly never-ending story. Crescendos into love, decrescendos into pain, accelerandos into horror, ritardandos into loneliness. The nuanced bits of classical music run the gamut of human emotion.

Classic’s night turns into day with the sunrise. Pop rock sends me bursting toward the sky. Society is united by a single sun. Warm rays shine on my skin, sending thrills of electrifying beat through my veins. Dance is not an option, albeit not physically; the movement of my imagination is enough. Underlying funky, repeated beats thread the foundation for a network of sparking optimism–it is fireworks in the sky. And it’s not even the Fourth of July.

Climb the mountain and you will find rap – makes you feel like you’re standing on top of the world. Ceaseless and timeless, the words wrap round and round your brain but instead of suffocating, they are freeing. Angst and power and experience thrive within the rhymes like a ruler watching over a kingdom. A cascading waterfall down that mountain leads to denouement, the ultimate mic drop.

On this island of musicality, there are many species. Not only is it an island of musicality – it is an island of humanity. Words and thoughts and ideas we cannot express we put into music. Not only the lyrics, but the collective effort of rhythm, meter, tune, dynamics, style, tempo, instrumentation, contrast, texture, and so many other nuanced bits that make music what it is. Music is one of the only outlets that is grand and complex enough for human expression. It makes us human, these divine sounds. And the best thing is it’s vast diversity. Angsty rap for a damaged image, a soulful ballad for losing a friend, free-flowing tune for a heartbreak, and loud funk for a night out. There is a song, a tune lying somewhere in the musical realm for every feeling. Like other places for expression such as writing and art, music is a space of freedom where all boundaries are broken down, and any seed of creativity or imagination can be planted. There is no limit to what humans can do and express with music, and that’s what makes it so powerfully humane.

A song may get old, but music will never get tiring.

First blog post: the story behind Minute Magazine

by Cindy Song, Editor-in-Chief

It was a Saturday morning and I was taking a walk around the pond near my house. And as it often is when I’m in nature, I became hyper-aware of everything around me: the gravel on the path below me, the sound of rustling grass, the dark and light faces of the clouds. And I thought, dang–wouldn’t it be so nice if someone could capture all this in words? Paint a picture with blocks and lines? And that is how Minute Magazine was born.

I started Minute because I want people to experience things they’ve experienced before but with fresher, newer eyes. I want them to appreciate the world and all its beauty, which lurks in even the slivers of life (hence the title Minute Magazine). There’s something beautiful in a poem / photo / description that captures a simple object, say, a glass of milk on the dining table, in just the right way, the right angle. Everything deserves appreciation, even the tissue-stuffed trash can sitting in the corner of your room. Even the coin sized dent resting between your second and third knuckles.

I’ve realized that starting a lit mag (and just starting in general) is more challenging than I thought. You have to set up the website, customize it, create pages and links, create social media accounts, inform friends and family, posting calls for submissions, hiring staff, etc. But I find the whole endeavor really fun and exciting — I got my first submission a few hours ago and I was ecstatic like…is this really happening?

There’s still a lot left to tidy up but I hope submissions start to roll in! The goal is to publish the first issue late summer 🙂

That’s it for now. I will post more with updates, so keep a look out for those. I’ll also probably start a blog series where I post about current events, pop culture, controversial issues, etc.

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