Saturday, August 7, 2010

Creative Nonfiction

Creative Nonfiction.

What IS that?  What does it mean?

Broken down, to me, it sounds a bit like someone stretching the truth a little?  In other words, maybe even telling a lie?  Well, doesn't it?

Heaven forbid!  It does say NON-fiction, after all.  But "Creative . . . ?"

Creative Nonfiction.

It's hard to explain, but there are other terms meaning the same thing, but which make it seem a little less like prevarication and more definitive, perhaps.  Literary non-fiction.  Or narrative non-fiction.  Those makes a little more sense to me, but neither sounds as provocative, or even as much fun. 

Lifted directly from Wikipedia - - it's described as follows:

"Creative nonfiction (also known as literary or narrative nonfiction) is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as technical writing or journalism, 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 and poetry.

For a text to be considered creative nonfiction, it must be factually accurate, and written with attention to literary style 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.”[1] Forms within this genre include personal essays, memoir, travel writing, food writing, biography, 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.[2]"

There's loads more said about it at Wikipedia at the link I've given above, and it's all quite interesting - I urge you to go see for yourselves.  Especially if you're a blogger.  I guess we bloggers are writing "Creative Nonfiction."  Aren't we?  I like it.  And it sounds loads nicer that "blogger."   Well, doesn't it??

Is it just another term for storyteller?

Or essayist?

Essays seem to come into literary fashion at times, then become less fashionable at other times.  Right now seems to be a "in" time for them.  Just like womens' clothing  -  everything old is new again.  For instance - scarves and shawls are "in" again, which tickles me pink,  and I'm glad I still have several from back when they were "in" several years ago.   I am a lover of long scarves.  Toss one around your neck and you've dressed up your white shirt and jeans just a tad.  Toss a shawl around your shoulders, and you're instantly feeling a little more dressed up, and maybe a little mysterious.

Actually, there are a lot of us who tend to ignore "fashion" and wear (or read) what suits us best.  

Essays have long been a favorite of mine, as have shawls.  

Some people have a special knack for "creative nonfiction," and are able to turn it into an art form that can bring great joy.  

Just as some peoples' novels bring some of us more joy than others, so too the short story and the essay.  The same with any form of artistic expression - a painting, a piece of handwoven or hand-knitted textile art, handthrown pottery . . .  whatever.  The artist imprints each piece with their own, individual style.  That style can become quite recognizable once the artist has found their technique, or "voice."  And some we find more pleasing than others, of course - art, in any form, is a very personal thing.

I have a few books of essays that stay pretty close at hand.  They're the perfect late night reading for me when I feel like a short read before turning in.  I cannot go to sleep without reading.  Can't do it, and really - don't even want to.  But.  I have this terrible habit of picking up a book late at night, then reading until the wee hours which makes it pretty tough to get up when that alarm starts its rude shrieking.  So, I've discovered short stories and essays work a little better for me.  

I've learned though, not to go on-line and start reading some of my favorite creative nonfiction blogs late at night.  It is way too easy to get caught up in that - especially if I feel moved to comment.  Talk about hours getting away from me.  Oy.

So, here's a couple of the books of creative nonfiction I've been re-reading lately -


While Nancy Peacock was trying to make it as a novelist, one of the things she did while trying to support herself was work as a housekeeper.  Finally, after two critically acclaimed novels she thought she had "arrived," but still couldn't afford to quit cleaning houses.  Not only that - the act of cleaning other people's houses gave her, in her words, what she needed to write - "solitude and gossip."  I just love this book.   I highly recommend A BROOM OF ONE'S OWN - WORDS ON WRITING, HOUSECLEANING & LIFE.

If you ever read Gourmet Magazine, you're familiar with Laurie Colwin's columns.  This is a collection of some of the columns she wrote before dying quite young and unexpectedly.  I loved every word I ever read that she wrote.  She wrote funny, touching pieces.

 And, of course, the one you've all heard me rave about numerous times already - 

Because I'm as big a fan of food as I am writing, I'm sure this book would have eventually found its way onto my nightstand.  Given the fact, however, that it was written by my favorite all-time writer ever, I had it pre-ordered the day I heard about it.  It did not disappoint.  I simply love and adore this book - it's full of great recipes, of course - but it is SO much more than that.  It's full of wonderful stories, and words of wisdom and wit as only Pat Conroy can give them, and I'm betting his next book of essays will join it on my nightstand, where they'll both live in harmony - oh boy . . .

Pat Conroy writing about books he's loved . . . I can't wait.


Sarah Shaber said...

I thought it was amusing when this term first became widespread. I gathered it meant non-fiction that was well-written, interesting, literate, instead of dry and academic. That's the way nonfiction should always be written! And has been by so many long before the term was invented.
I'm thinking Winston Churchill here--have you ever read his bio,
"My Early Life?" Or "Out of Africa?" Or "Travels with Charley?"

Vicki Lane said...

I'd say you definitely write creative non-fiction, Kaye. And write it very well, too!

One of my favorite books of essays is Barbara Kingsolver's HIGH TIDE IN TUCSON.

bo parker said...

Creative Nonfiction? Not certain it qualifies, but Robert Ruark's THE OLD MAN AND THE BOY, "a moving story from his own life--the details of his early relationship with his amazing grandfather," makes for great bedtime, or any time, reading.
Ruark, another native of the Carolinas, born in Wilmington, wrote in a style copied by others, Pat Conroy included.

Neil Plakcy said...

You already know that I love Laurie Colwin & Pat Conroy. I studied creative non-fiction as part of my MFA-- even did some food writing myself. Thanks for a great post!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Sarah, I have not read the Churchill bio, but have read the other two, and re-read "Out of Africa" from time to time. I do love biographies, so I guess I need to look for "My Early Life." Thanks!!

Vicki - you are a doll. Thank you!
Ooooh - I'm a huge Kingsolver fan, and somehow I have missed this one. How did that happen?!

Bo - I'm not familiar with Robert Ruark, but you know I'll have to check him out now!

Neil - we do seem to share the same taste in our reading, don't we?! Are you still doing any food writing??

Adrienne Sparks said...

So glad you are a fan of Pat Conroy. If you are interested in an advance reading copy of 'My Reading Life' email your contact information to acsparks at and visit Pat on facebook at