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.

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.