Wednesday, September 3, 2008

what is creative nonfiction?

Dear K,

Since I’m teaching Creative Nonfiction now at JCU, I thought I'd look up some of the words I wanted to talk about on the first day of class, just to see how they were "officially" defined. I went to Some of the definitions made me less sure about what the words themselves really meant, and I always hate it when they use a version of the word to define the word. But as I went along, one word lead to another. It became a circular/maze kind of game that had some appeal to me, to see how enlightened and confused I could get at the same time. I printed up this list and gave it to my students. It seemed a good way to start a conversation about this class, which is really an art class offered through the English department. I wanted to give them some warning that it wouldn’t be like most of the other classes they might be taking, where there’s a right answer and a wrong answer. What I found by looking up the definitions was a good way to begin this conversation. So I thought I'd show you it, too, since this is the kind of stuff we talk about. I didn't get to "Truth" yet, although it certainly did come up in the classroom conversation.

Creative Nonfiction: Your search for 'Creative Nonfiction' did not match any dictionary results.

Fiction: 1) Something invented by the imagination. 2) An invented story.

Nonfiction: 1) Narrative prose dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality. 2) Literature or cinema that is not fictional.

Literature: Writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.

Story: A narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale.

Narrative: 1) A story or account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious. 2) A book, literary work, etc., containing such a story. 3) The art, technique, or process of narrating.

Subjective: 1) Existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought (opposed to objective). 2) Pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual: a subjective evaluation. 3) Placing excessive emphasis on one's own moods, attitudes, opinions, etc.; unduly egocentric.

Objective: 1) Something that one's efforts or actions are intended to attain or accomplish; purpose; goal; target: the objective of a military attack; the objective of a fund-raising drive. 2) Not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased: an objective opinion. 3) Intent upon or dealing with things external to the mind rather than with thoughts or feelings, as a person or a book.

Art: 1) The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance. 2) The class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria.

Aesthetic: Pertaining to, involving, or concerned with pure emotion and sensation as opposed to pure intellectuality.


michael salinger said...

It's always good to establish a vocabulary when starting in. It's not so much teaching meaning as coming to agreement.

Karen Sandstrom said...

i have to confess, though i shouldn't, that the term "creative nonfiction" has always vexed me. it sounds like simply the difference between interesting fact-based writing and boring fact-based writing. but i'm sure it's more complicated than that. most things are.

Mama Non Grata said...

Hi there,

I came across your blog via a Google search for "teaching creative nonfiction". I'm teaching the selfsame course this coming fall at Lakehead University. Wondering if you have any expertise, tips, suggested readings or syllabi that you might be willing to share. I'd love to hear them. Thanks,
mamanongrata at