Saturday, April 8, 2017

Creative Nonfiction: The Literary Power Couple

If you don’t think "creative" and "nonfiction" go together, you'd better think again.  ♦ 
I feel like it's human nature to want to divide things into easy, clear-cut categories: black and white, right brain and left brain, good and bad, real and fake. When I was younger, my choice of genre for a book was an easy one. Who would want to read nonfiction when you have fiction and all of the fantastical worlds, characters, and adventures it creates for you? Yet now, I would tell my younger self that with a few more years of experience and knowledge under my belt, I just love reading nonfiction. How could a girl who counted down the days until the next Harry Potter book release, bee-lined it for the young adult fiction section in bookstores, and dreamed of creating a fiction book series of her own ask for the Norton Reader: An Anthology of Nonfiction for Christmas this year? Because I’ve stumbled upon one of the best-kept secrets in the literary genre divide – creative nonfiction.
   The phrase sounds kind of like an oxymoron, and it seems like a fact in itself that straight information can’t be "creative" because it must be accurate. But a fact is more than just the plain, generalized truth that it first appears to be; it takes different forms in the living world through its use and consequences. For example: it takes about eight minutes for the light from the sun to actually reach the Earth. Or you could say that if the sun exploded, it would take eight minutes for the ensuing darkness and chaos to reach Earth. This transformation is all a play on words and presentation. We may not be able to change the core truth of nonfiction, but we can still shape and mold it to fit the different people, experiences, and perspectives it encounters.
   I am a pre-medical student with an English major – maybe two of the most opposite fields of study one can pursue. Yet I believe there is a middle ground between the two to be explored, occupied, and used in my career as a physician. In one of my high school English classes, I read an essay called “The Knife” by Richard Selzer. The story anthropomorphizes a surgeon’s knife to describe the experience in the operating room in new terms. You would be hard-pressed to find a more factual, methodical process than performing surgery on a person, but this essay takes those nonfiction roots and sprinkles them with creativity, allowing them to bloom into a unique and poignant essay. It discusses objects and acts like the inner anatomy of the body, the power of the surgeon holding the knife, and the knife itself in descriptive, thought-provoking, and just plain interesting language. Just as every patient who comes into the hospital carries a unique story and set of beliefs, so do the laws of nature and workings of the world. Creative nonfiction specializes in telling the stories behind the facts and allowing the reader to establish a closer relationship with them.
   Essays like “The Knife” are a far cry from the more well-known product of creative nonfiction: the memoir. We are currently in what seems to be a “memoir craze” with celebrities and figureheads publishing their private lives and reflective thoughts in the hopes that readers will gain a new appreciation for their inner workings. Because these essays are so personal, they often have limited audiences. More general creative nonfiction pieces such as essays about dogs, politics, travel, or food reach a wider audience because they are about life and the things we see around us every day. People think they will hate nonfiction or creative nonfiction because it is dry and boring, but the truth is that we embody this genre constantly in our daily lives. Some great places to start exposing yourself to the genre include anthologies like The Norton Reader, memoirs by your favorite figureheads, Creative Nonfiction magazine, or even newspaper articles on travel or food.
   What’s really most exciting is the fact that creative nonfiction is such an enigma. We classify memoirs and essays as creative nonfiction, but where is the line for the amount of creativity that pushes us over from nonfiction to fiction? You can even be creative with how you define creativity. What is deemed to be “real” or “the truth” is increasingly questioned and loosely defined. Creative nonfiction is currently one of the fastest growing genres and as it’s growing, the attempts to define and understand exactly what it is will grow as well. Creative nonfiction and what it can be will be determined by the writers who participate in its discourse. So write an essay about your dog or those thoughts you have at two in the morning or your relationship with your dad and the moments you think define it. To truly understand this worthwhile genre, you must participate in it. There are no rules or boundaries or clear-cut definitions to follow so long as what you create is a “True story. Well told,” in the words of the magazine Creative Nonfiction. Nonfiction doesn’t deserve the bad stigma it receives in comparison to fiction. People who perpetuate negative sentiment towards creative nonfiction might just be those who haven’t had the chance to see it creatively yet. If you don’t think creative and nonfiction go together, think again.
  • About the Author
    Kelsy Schultz is a junior Creative Writing and Pre-Medical studies co-major from Michigan with hopes of attend medical school upon graduation. She is also the president of the Miami Waterski Club, a lover of all things pumpkin all year round, an avid book reader (when there is time to spare), and a firm believer that “everything happens for a reason.”

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