A problem I have encountered in my creative nonfiction is how to dialogue my personal history as it relates to the histories of my countries as a Dominican American. Essayists write the intersection of these histories with ease and while reading, I tend to focus on the stylistic techniques the writer employs when trying to transform this research into what we call “creative non-fiction”. Growing up, I admired how Junot Diaz and Julia Alvarez brought the voices of Dominican implanted Americans to life, but I knew what I read was fiction. But I also knew I had good stories to tell, important stories to tell. I just didn’t quite know how to scintillate my reader. How can I create prose that breathes the lyrics of life while still getting down to the facts of my story?
Recently, while doing research about the Dominican Republic for my writing, I stumbled upon “An American Childhood in the Dominican Republic” by Julia Alvarez, a story that blends the histories of both a brutal dictatorship and her family’s escapade – folds between the two transparent. In this piece, Alvarez’s informative, yet playful tone throughout the piece establishes a firm grounding in how she incorporates her research. She high lights the main aspects the piece brings about – the commodification of American culture in the Dominican Republic during Trujillo’s dictatorship and how it affected Alvarez’s childhood. Alvarez invites us into her childhood and brings her family members to life, “My grandmother also brought back clothes for her grandchildren – impractical things, such as gorgeous party dresses that were too dressy for any occasion”, and helps us reach an intimate relationship with the piece. The interweaving of dialogue to thread together pieces of her story almost make the reader feel as though she has met her Abuelita.
I was in middle school when I wrote my first piece of creative non-fiction. Ms. Lillywhite taught us about the anecdote” and asked us to remember a five minute moment of our lives where we felt any one emotion strongly, straight to the bone, and to remember every single thing about this moment and why it made you feel that particular what. “What did it feel, taste, look, sound, smell like?” she asked us. How did the verde of my bathing suit glisten in the water, my feet slide over the slimy rocks en el rio, miniscule grey pebbles stick to my skin when my father pulls me out of Jarabacoa as I gasped for air, spitting Jarabacoa back onto the ground? Why was this such an important story for me to tell ten years later? Although the facts of the writing can be found, it is the details one inputs and remembers, the smells of the pork twisting on the riverside, that bring us to the moment. The details one includes about the place, its history, people, culture, that make the reader learn.
Although I haven’t mastered these techniques, I know that it is through writing these true accounts that I can transport my reader and show them something they have never experienced. It is through the delicate balance of show and tell, my own lyrics, that I will be able to transport my reader.