This year, This Magazine added a new category to its annual Great Canadian Literary Hunt: creative non-fiction. So what, exactly, is that? This intern Kyle Dupont sat down with editor Lauren McKeon to talk about the new category, what makes creative non-fiction great, and why we want more of it in This Magazine.
Also, don’t forget to enter our Lit Hunt; the deadline is July 31, 2012. We’re also running an online creative non-fiction workshop (free!) for writers who want to learn how to nail their “I” voice. Whether you need mega or minor advice, or just want a second set of expert eyes, this workshop is for you. Click here for more details.
Kyle Dupont: You decided to add a new category in the mix this year for the Great Canadian Literary Hunt with creative non-fiction, I’m sure I’m not alone when I ask what on earth does that even mean?
Lauren McKeon: You’re not—in fact, you could probably ask about 10 different people to define creative non-fiction and get just about as many answers. To confuse matters even more, many use the terms creative non-fiction, literary journalism, narrative non-fiction, and new journalism interchangeably. Having said all that, there are some basic principals of creative non-fiction: the stories are true; they use elements of literature, essay-writing, and even poetry, in their scenes, dialogues, rhythm, and description; many use the “I” voice. In the words of Lee Gutkind, editor of the wonderful journal Creative Nonfiction: “Creative nonfiction heightens the whole concept and idea of essay writing. It allows a writer to employ the diligence of a reporter, the shifting voices and viewpoints of a novelist, the refined wordplay of a poet and the analytical modes of the essayist.”
KD: What are some good resources out there to help me better understand the genre?
LM: You should definitely check out Creative Nonfiction’s website or grab a copy of the journal itself. Try also, The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism, The New Journalism, The New, New Journalism, The New Kings of Nonfiction. There are the genre pioneers: most anything Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, Truman Capote, John McPhee, Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, and on. New iterations of the craft: Susan Orlean, Chuck Klosterman, Malcom Gladwell, Jon Krakauer, William Langewiesche, Tom Junod, and more. Browse your bookstores and the web—creative non-fiction covers so many approaches and genres, you can find it, or elements of it, almost anywhere these days.
KD: When did creative non-fiction really come to life?
LM: Many people will point you to the pioneers I just mentioned—those journalists that really began pushing storytelling and reporting in a new, interesting, and then-unconventional direction. Pretty soon, the mash of journalism and novel-esque narrative technique became the bread-and-butter of many magazines, such as Esquire and Rolling Stone. The new journalism of the ’60s and ’70s has since morphed into what some call the new, new journalism—and all the nuances of creative nonfiction found in publications across the world today.
KD: Has This ever published any creative non-fiction and are you planning on adding it into the magazine on a regular basis?
LM: This has certainly published its share of creative non-fiction in our 46 years. We sure love us a good essay! Many of our best stories also have elements of creative nonfiction: descriptive writing, dialogue, personal insight, etc. And, of course, we would like to publish more. We have a history at the magazine of pushing boundaries, highlighting new writers, and publishing stories you wouldn’t find anywhere else—some of the things creative non-fiction does best. Please send us your pitches, and enter the Lit Hunt.
KD: Is there usually a specific topic people write on like politics or some other type of news worthy beat?
LM: The beautiful thing about creative fiction is that it can, really, be about anything. It includes everything from memoir writing to travel writing, and food writing to sports writing. There are essays, “I”-voice writing, political writing, and music writing. I’ve read creative nonfiction about prison food, a beautiful essay about mayonnaise (by Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg), and stuff about playing poker. Really, as long as it’s done well, the possibilities are limitless.