As a reader of John D’Agata’s and a student in a creative nonfiction class, I do find it a bit hard to take in the truth of D’Agata’s note section at the close of his story, About a Mountain. Though it is arguable that this piece can be treated as a piece of fiction as he admits to the fabrication and alteration of information within the text, I still believe that this book merits classification as creative nonfiction. I say this because authors within this genera must create a story of truth meanwhile being allowed to insert their creativity and authorial intent so that they may give their readers a factual story through their own personal lends. Continue reading
Roxane Gay, author of the 2014 essay collection Bad Feminist and former essays editor of The Rumpus, took to Twitter yesterday to share a few common reasons for why some essays are rejected from lit journals. This might be helpful for any of you thinking of sending your work out, or even if you’re just writing nonfiction for yourself/a class and want to work on some revisions. Check out the Q&A here.
In his notes, John D’Agata reveals he conflates time and uses composite characters throughout About a Mountain. How does this deviation from the truth affect the way you view D’Agata’s story (is it a deviation)? Does revealing this information make it “okay” for the text to still be considered CNF? How would you react if D’Agata didn’t attach the Notes section, and you later found out he altered these details?
Imagine you are a writer, and at the very beginning of starting a creative nonfiction story. You’re sitting at a desk. Only a desk-lamp illuminates the desktop, and you are surrounded by darkness. All that matters is your clear mind, the pad of lined notebook paper on the desk and the #2 pencil sitting beside it. Before any graphite touches the paper, you think to yourself, “Why am I going to write this? “What is the main theme of the story?” Once writers find those answers, it is in their best interest to tell the story with the best accuracy they can, while most importantly making the story as intriguing as possible. Many times in creative nonfiction, writers will alter the truth, in order to make the story flow better and keep the reader engaged, which will help better project the main theme. When writers do this, are they straying from the truthful nature of nonfiction? Or are the white lies and alterations of the truth only included to help the author establish and clearly project their main theme? Continue reading
John D’Agata’s book About A Mountain is a wide-ranging book that delves into the culture of Las Vegas during the time he helps his mother move there. At the same time, tons of controversy had been building up around Yucca Mountain potentially being used as a nuclear waste storage site. D’Agata weaves in vast amounts of research with a meandering narrative, covering topics such as the experiences of him and his mother during her move, the life of a boy who committed suicide in Las Vegas, and a school field trip to Yucca Mountain. But, in the end, D’Agata includes in his notes that he had “conflated time in this way for dramatic effect only” and “also changed subjects’ names or combined a number of subjects into a single ‘composite’ character.”
At the very end of John D’Agata’s About a Mountain, he reveals a small fact about the story: that some of the things within the story that he passed off as being completely accurate were purposefully altered, whether for dramatic effect, or to protect the identities of those he speaks about. In other words, the non-fiction story is not entirely non-fictional.
Coming off Lauren Slater’s “Lying” I feel like an overly permissive parent when it comes to “About A Mountain”, I feel stable in John D’Agata’s hands, while in Slater’s I was never really sure where I stood. He admits “Although the narrative of this essay, suggests that it takes place over a single summer, the span between my arrival in Las Vegas and my final departure was, in fact, much longer. I have conflated time in this way for dramatic effect only, but I have tried to indicate each instance of this below. At times, I have also changed subjects’ names or combined a number of subjects into a single composite character.” I feel secure in his intent to manipulate solely for the sake of “dramatic effect”, because that effect increased my enjoyment of a topic that many people often have no interest in. It must be noted that Lauren Slater and D’Agata are two different people, I feel as if nature and his section of notes makes him a reliable narrator. I do not feel as if someone is trying to pull the wool over my eyes with a sort of game of two truths and a lie. I have no reason to doubt his authorial intent. It’s different, his ability to tell the truth in a psychological way is not put into question.
To be honest, after reading Lauren Slater’s Lying, I don’t think there will be another piece of self-called creative nonfiction work that I will consider fiction just because the author adjusts the way he/she presents his/her information to convey a truth they believe in. I mean, if Slater got away with what she did and still have Lying be considered a memoir, then why can’t D’Agata’s work be considered nonfiction? Moreover, unlike Slater, D’Agata points out most, if not all, pieces of reality that he adjusted––that in itself is nonfiction, isn’t it? If Slater got away with leaving the line between metaphors and reality blurry, then how is it fair that we call D’Agata’s piece of work fiction when he reveals what we call “factual truth” after telling us his story?
The elasticity of storytelling, the ambiguity inherent to the reader-writer relationship, the lies that tell the truth: these are but a few of the many phenomena that underscore the chaos and depth of creative nonfiction. As a result, when we pursue literary order—a complex nonfictional typology in this case, if you will—we meet a certain arbitrariness in our classification of what may or may not preclude texts from the genre of nonfiction to begin with. Continue reading
At the closing section of About a Mountain we are informed by D’Agata himself that some of the details of the narrative were compressed “for dramatic effect only.” This can seem jarring to readers who have placed their utmost trust in the narrative. We knew from the start that Slater’s metaphorical memoir was blurring the lines between fact and fiction, but D’Agata’s confession comes as a surprise after we have already made the journey through his recounted experience. So the question is, Is it still nonfiction or has it become something else entirely? Continue reading