Author Archives: Paige Buzzetti

In Plain Sight

I had never really put much thought into what genre a memoir would be categorized in. I spent a whole semester reading powerful women’s memoirs last year and still it never dawned on me that what I was consuming was in fact creative nonfiction. The memoir seems to have recently become the next logical step in a career for many people who live life in the spotlight to some degree.

The topics can range from political power, the lessons learned through life or a specific events like illustrated in I am Malala. I find it interesting that given the number of memoirs being produced and the clear market of readers that the topic of creative nonfiction is not as present. Obviously now looking at the 5 memoirs that line the bookshelf in my living room I can see how the authors used life experience to provide insight or a critique. It seems to me that creative nonfiction is not gaining the recognition it deserves given what it is allowing so many authors to produce- though it should be pointed out that many of the authors are visitors to the genre.

Creative nonfiction has not been discussed in any of my English courses until this year. It seems to me that it is a specific genre that one must be invited into by those who have ventured into it before. When I think of the way that memoirs make use of the genre it appears that they could be a great jumping off point for learning about and even becoming a writer of creative nonfiction. Many memoirs are a collection of personal essays. Unlike other texts these can be arranged in any order or visual presentation and that idea of structure is a principle of the genre. These are life experiences that are being placed on the page so inevitably the use of the first person “I” will make an appearance. As someone who writes primarily for academics it can be a strange feeling putting the “I” on the page, but a memoir could help expose a writer to that and provide a level of comfort with the form. The language and tone that is used in memoirs is often not the same as in a traditional novel. It truly depends on the memoir but from my experience it can be relaxed. The author does not feel that they need to persuade or convince you of what they say because it is real.

The popular and literary memoir are on the rise and that in turn continues to fuel the debate over memory and the notion of truth, but another debate is creeping into my mind. Is the rise in pop culture icons and celebrity memoirs helping or hurting creative nonfiction. Does it want to be associated with those works or is there a boundary being crossed with how creative nonfiction is being used?

Putting the Nonfiction in Creative Nonficiton

Creative nonfiction is the hybrid of writing genres. It wants voice and the “I” on the page but it is not just thought up stories. The stories are grounded in some truth. These works all include an element of research. It’s easy to think that a personal story about a past experience does not require research but it can. Research is the practice of investigation and study of material to establish facts and reach new conclusions. Most recently writing in the style of immersion journalism and immersion memoir I thought that those were the most logical areas of creative nonfiction to use research but it is in all creative nonfiction. The creative approach in this genre and the various structures displays research in a nontraditional way. I often think of it as quotes and statistics that support the personal thought on the page. In this genre there are no rules for research it is up to the writer to decide what and how they use the truth.

Research is truth, and whether it is directly present on the page or included in the way a memory of the past is shaped for an essay it is providing the truth necessary for creative nonfiction. This truth can emerge from a variety of areas. There are several specific types of research most frequently used. First, the investigation for further understanding of a topic on the Internet or in a database. Second there is the informational interview, where you ask questions to establish facts and gather details. The third place where research can be conducted is in your own life. By looking back at photographs, visiting forgotten places, or recalling major events are providing information that can be used to create new conclusions about what you are writing.

This genre is not rigid like that of typical journalism or even academic writing. It welcomes anyone to the genre and I would know, as this is my first experience writing creative nonfiction. The way it uses a journalistic and poetic approach together can mask the incorporation of research but nonfiction needs this element. Lee Gutkind founder of literary magazine Creative Nonfiction discusses the role of research in the overall process of writing within this genre and it can be a helpful point of research before writing.

I found an interesting piece on Brevity that I thought showed an interesting slant to including research check it out here!