One of the classes I'm taking this semester is an advanced writing workshop. It's one of those classes in which the topic changes each semester that someone new teaches it, and in this case, the director of the LIU Writing Program is teaching the class, with an emphasis on testimony as it relates to place and history, written in the genre of creative non-fiction. A draft of our first essay is due next week, and I have a couple pages written so far, but I'm having a bit of trouble with it; we're supposed to have picked a place that has a lot of meaning for us as writers; the problem is I don't really have such a place. I really struggled with choosing a place of any kind - physical or psychological - even though the professor had advised us to brainstorm, make a list of maybe five places, and write about one. I couldn't even think of one initially, let alone five. I don't know if I really have a "place" that means that much to me, but then I realized - and this sounds really dorky and I'm a bit embarrassed about it - but the Stony Brook University Writing Center was my place for such a long time that in a sense, it still is; my working there really affected me.
But I also struggle with identifying the genre of creative non-fiction. I don’t do much creative writing of any flavor; I used to, a lot (or what I perceived as a lot), as a kid; but since my teenage years I never really much of anything that could be defined as creative. But in beginning the course readings, in investigating what “creative non-fiction” is, I see that there’s no definition for it; it seems to be whatever the author who partakes in it wants it to be. I find the varied definitions both helpful and not so much; it’s journalism (because you have to write the truth, apparently), but you have to include your own past (because if you don’t, it’s just journalism, then). Apparently, also, one should include “the truth” about one’s family if one wants one’s writing to be authentic or “actual,” but maybe one shouldn’t include everything, or one should only include certain aspects, because one doesn’t want to be hurtful. Creative non-fiction apparently means at least part memoir or autobiography, but I guess it can’t be called strictly autobiography or memoir, because other information might be included. But at least in the case of Bloom, she exposes her family (I’m not sure how; I’m not sure if “gently” is appropriate, but it doesn’t seem to me that she’s trying to be intentionally hurtful, either) and writes about them in such a way that she explains her motivation for including as much or as little as she does, incorporating her childhood and adulthood almost as an exposition – or as an explanation, explaining why certain aspects of her family are not included at least in this particular essay – “[t]o concentration on the story at hand I have pruned the underbrush of other stories; to maintain an appropriate tone I have resisted the jokes and satire that pepper our family dialogue” (18). It seems to me that creative writing is a however you want to define it; however you want to write it is acceptable.
Miscellaneous: What I’m seeing – what I’ve noticed before – is that people like to label things. We like to know how things fit in relation to other things. (The first guy I ever dated didn’t want us to call each other “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” because he didn’t want us to label ourselves; if we labeled ourselves we’d be restricting ourselves, and that would have been a bad thing, I guess.) Categorizing the style of writing seems to help, if for no other reason that we know where to look in the library or in the bookstore, but I think it also allows us (as readers) to know what to expect, and to know what genre requirements should be incorporated. When any type of writing blurs those lines, our heads get messed with. (At the very least, I wouldn’t know where to look to find the book, if I didn’t have access to a filing system.)
One of my favorite authors is Bill Bryson, who is categorized as a travel writer, but whose works I’ve read are more in the memoir section. Yet many of his works that I’ve read could be categorized as both, since he writes about his own experiences traveling. I wonder if that’s also creative non-fiction. I’d bet that there’s a lot more that could be categorized as such. It seems, in the few essays I’ve read for this class, that at least these authors want to be classified as such. Maybe we just need a “creative non-fiction” section at all libraries and bookstores; but oh, the filing nightmare!