ICRN: Creative Nonfiction
OVERVIEW: Creative Nonfiction is an exciting genre and one that gives writers a wide range of options for telling their (true) stories. Nonfiction is also a very old genre--If you've read Emerson, you've read in the tradition of nonfiction in American literature. But it's even older than that. Addison and Steele in 18th Century England wrote for and published The Spectator, which was essentially a collection of nonfiction, of essays and reportage, of London at the time. The tradition of the essay is a long one and rich one. I don't mean the five paragraph MCAS essay that you learned how to write, or even the essay you write for your college classes, but the kinds of writing that we read for and are talking about in today's class.
The word "essay," coopted as it has been by things like MCAS, make essays sound awful. But in truth, the very idea of the essay comes from the French "essayer" the verb for "to try." And, at its best, that's what this genre does, it is an author trying to seek an answer to their own question--sometimes a question about the wider world and sometimes a question about some part of their lives (memoir--also from the French for "to remember").
THE PROMPT: The "creative" part of creative nonfiction sometimes gets lost in discussions, but that is what I would like us to focus on this week. Creative nonfiction borrows heavily from the the characteristics of fiction--characterization, metaphor, imagery, the list goes on and on. For today's ICRN, select one of the essays we read for class--not to be confused with the short essay we are working on in-class--and write about the following:
3/26/2021 10:27:06 am
The article I chose was, Indian Condition. This was my favorite essay because the it focus around the idea of stories broadly. To me, the story was not only about her hardships but the fact that people have ugly stories and we are not always sure what to do with them--who is the audience. The first line of the essay opens by calling her own story 'maltreated'--i.e. underfed or malnourished--this word was very purposeful. Throughout the essay, she talks about her mother and all of the spiritual things she had to go through. Towards the end, she goes back to the idea of hunger, "I left because I was hungry.... I'm a river widened by misery, and the potency of my language is more than human" (6-7). The whole story goes back to the idea of being malnourished and needing some kind of way to get out. The last lines read, "Time seems measured by grief and anticipatory grief. I don't think she even measured time" (7). This was the most powerful line in the whole essay for me because it told the whole story in two lines--we focus our lives on the miseries we face or the anxiety of the miseries we might face; in doing that, we lose track of time and space in general.
3/26/2021 11:13:35 am
3/26/2021 10:27:09 am
The author of * makes a point of personifying her own emotions in the text as if they were being to communicate with. The reading that I find within the text itself is that the profound use of metaphors allows the reader to connect with the world and give a more in-depth visual. The way that trees move and how the wind appears to speak gives a great deal of nuance to the text for descriptions that have been provided in the past. I do see a great deal of character and theory used within the context of the text as the story relies heavily on characterization of the elements involved. I find that without it, the author would simply be explaining herself rather than how the landscape around her makes her feel. The theory comes into play with the emotional struggled involved with the troubles often associated with love and grief. While there isn't too much there, it shows to have a great deal of importance in the text as it helps contextualize earlier elements in the reading. The elements of her writing style allow a good flow of wording and alliteration which adds a good poetic touch to help with visualization. though the same can be said for fiction, the audience is still dependent on their own visualization of events especially when viewing the world though someone else's eyes who has first hand experience. Something that is unique to nonfiction is that when descriptions are made, it requires a certain nuance since other people could see the same event but under a completely different perspective. One description could have a completely different meaning to someone who hasn't experienced it or if they did, they could have a different reaction to events.
3/26/2021 10:27:35 am
This applies o Indian Condition
3/26/2021 10:30:52 am
“We at Old Birds”... The author is trying to discuss how the need to search and find something, the grand quest, is just that: a need. Without religion, sasquatch or signs from another realm, how boring life would be. Sometimes the bare truth is not as fun as rumor or gossip. She lays this out for the reader when she refers to Churchill’s parrot, the illusive Ivory Billed Woodpecker, “around” 35 lake monsters and her father’s futile search for his past, his memories. Imagery of numerous types of birds, random nameless researchers out in search of the “lost” species; and the jarring scene of her aged parent juxtaposed with lifting the veil on their complicated relationship can all be elements of a novel. The lengthy imagery of her mother posing in boudoir for her husband was similar to fiction as well. Character development of the narrator is only through dialogue. We don’t get much on her father other than family trips and secrets. Unique to non-fiction, I admire her choice of dark humor to outright refuse to grant the reader a front seat to her pain. It makes her father tolerable: both in his current state and the lack of detail regarding his sins. Her satire on religion is flippant and refuses to take itself seriously, unlike most dogma. Might be my favorite essay today.
3/26/2021 10:31:50 am
I decided to use John Tormey’s essay “Known Assailants'' for this ICRN. Tormey spent much of this piece exploring how his life journey went in a completely different direction than he anticipated and how he then found himself questioning his place among a group of people in a job that he didn’t necessarily fit in with. I think Tormey’s thesis is this: your life might take an unexpected turn and you might get stuck somewhere you’d rather not be, but you can learn to accept and understand the situation over time. Obviously, he went to graduate school, taught some classes, and got a master’s degree—but it didn’t lead him anywhere. He got the job with the commuter rail as a last-case scenario because he needed financial stability. Although he admits his naivete when he assumed it would be only six months or a year on the job, he understands how lucky he is to have this stability and to receive a pension when retiring. He’s pretty up front with us on this, too: “I lucked out. I’d have to be a real asshole to suggest otherwise.”
3/26/2021 10:36:12 am
I'm glad I read your take on this! I hated his flagrant use of tribal narrative/phrasing, found it tone deaf and refused to explore him further. From your perspective I see the narrator as more human than I gave him credit for.. probably his whole point
3/26/2021 10:32:41 am
In The Lonely Ruralist Janisse Ray discusses the realities of rural life in the United States and how it has shaped her own views and opinions on society and life as a whole. She is able to paint a picture of rural America not only through the concrete descriptions of the town of Altamaha but also through her own experiences and emotions about her transitions between rural and urban.
3/26/2021 10:38:41 am
I definitely understood the context of the piece and the way the writer is effected by these events. How would you say this is exclusive to nonfiction or which elements come into play to provide a degree of nuance?
3/26/2021 10:32:50 am
The essay that stuck out to me the most was the one titled "Marceline Wanted a Bigger Adventure." It stuck out to me as I was reading it because it covered a topic that I have been interested in. I have a strange fascination with true crime cases and historical events such as the Jonestown tragedy. I really enjoyed how the author weaved her own personal thoughts and opinions on the events at Jonestown with her own research and retelling on the history behind Jonestown. I think the author's intent for writing this piece was to humanize someone in history who is largely forgotten. I have watched documentaries on Jonestown and I already knew a lot of his early life that was described in this piece. However, I couldn't recall anything about his wife, Marceline. This essay revolves around the author visiting Marceline's grave as she reflects on some events of her own life and weaves her own reflections on the life of Marceline. The characteristics of fiction that I noticed in this piece was that the other covered a large amount of time within a few paragraphs. The author describes how Marceline and Jim met, how they formed the Peoples Temple, and it is described how she died. It really stuck with me to discover that the famous recording of Jim saying "mother, mother mother," he was actually talking to the mother of his own children and the person he built the church with. I really liked being able to read the real history of Marceline along with stories from the author's own past.
3/26/2021 10:41:51 am
This essay also stuck out to me a lot as I am fascinated by cults and Jonestown. Getting to learn about such a specific historical aspect of this case was definitely interesting and I thought this was a unique concept for a nonfiction piece. The focus on Marceline makes this piece stand out from other true crime writing, since the focus isn't specifically on Jim Jones, the leader of the cult and the man behind it all.
3/26/2021 10:33:58 am
"Marceline Wanted a Bigger Adventure" was my favorite piece that we read for today's class. To me, it seemed that McAuliffe was trying to show us the different ways idealistic people get stuck in exploitative situations. She frames the essay with one of the most extreme examples--the Jonestown cult, 900 people who ostensibly chose to drink cyanide and die because one charismatic man asked them to. However, she weaves in the less extreme stories of her family members' bout as members of a pyramid scheme, her husband's childhood on a commune, her own experience with a religion that almost consumed her. All of these individuals escaped to some degree, while Marceline and the 900+ people of Jonestown did not. "All this, of course, is what we remember," McAuliffe writes, "not socialism but 'Kool-Aid.' Not communism or public services or racial equality but fallen bodies, sneakers and dungarees and corduroys and T-shirts, so many bodies lined up and piled in the dirt" (284). These bodies represent individuals who, just like McAuliffe and her family, believed in an ideal--economic stability, and alternative way of life, a sense of meaning and belonging--and they suffered for that idealism. As McAuliffe writes, "[Marceline] was idealistic, committed to fighting racism and sharing resources and caring for cchildren. She was loyal. But her life, her death, her loyalty, became a chilling warning against holding too tightly to ideals. Be moderate; love reasonably, her story whispers, opposing every message of love and idealisim and generosity I have ever heard" (285). I believe that with this essay, combining the more common and relatable stories with the stories of Jonestown, McAuliffe challenges us not to condemn idealism but those that would take advantage of it, to stop before we joke about "drinking the Kool-Aid" and consider the circumstances that might have led the people of Jonestown to that point: are they really so far from our own?
3/26/2021 10:35:34 am
In the essay The Lonely Ruralist, several imagery points are discussed. Janisse Ray does not talk about being lonely as in her husband is gone all the time , she is lonely because more the farm life is gone. Two of the biggest points that I noticed is when she meets Amos and then her childhood friend at the farmers market. The scene when she buys the apples and had the long conversation with Amos was pivotal because of the breakdown with her husband. She had seen how happy Amos was. Then her attitude changed when she seen her friend Robby Astrrove. She notices how people are flocking in the farmers market as she notices kids playing and people planting a community garden.
3/26/2021 10:41:05 am
Hi Ron, yes! that scene was beautiful and showed the long lost friendship between Janisse Ray and Amos. this shows that loneliness is not just about losing a person, but it can be with items and a new life as well such as her losing her farm life. It has a nonfiction element with fiction embedded.
3/26/2021 10:36:03 am
The point of "We At Old Birds Welcome Messages from God, Even if Unverifiable" is how some things aren't meant to be found, and the whole point of them is to keep searching. Because the search is what's rewarding. But the point is also about being seen. Seeing each other's experiences and faults. The author says, "most of whom do not even know they are members of the cult, much less capable of translating messages form God. Still, this one seems pretty obvious, even to us laity: I see you." This also is about having one chance at life, sometimes you loose it, sometimes it gets found again. "One chance, you blew it, too bad".
3/26/2021 10:36:17 am
"Known Assailants" by John Tormey talks to us about being a middle class white construction worker. His point is to tell us that even though he went to college and pursued a degree, he still ended up becoming a construction worker which is not what the teachers in high school or his parents told him where he will end up.The line "college is still a ticket into middle class for a dwindling few. But the fetish of the college diploma as the symbol of success in the new knowledge economy conceals a host of inconvenient truths." which to a degree I can see for myself as well. This mindset was made for young people to believe that if they have a college degree they can be on top with the best paying jobs and living a comfortable life but John states otherwise. It benefited some but many who went still ended up with high debt and a not so great job. The imagery of the construction workers on Comm Ave. really sets the tone for the rest of the story and how they also ended up there with college degrees themselves. He wanted to get out of this job in less than six months to a year but it was so hard despite him being white. This goes to show that even if you are white, some privileges don't come naturally and you still have to work hard to get what you want. The imagery of a white middle class man with a college becoming a construction worker is not the typical "White American" image people have in their heads when they think of middle class White Americans. He is here to show otherwise. He stayed because he wants to be paid just like everyone else does. This work feels the most nonfiction because everything he described is happening across the country.
3/26/2021 10:36:45 am
In the excerpt from Terese Marie Mailhot's memoir "Heart Berries", Mailhot talks about the difficult experiences she has had living as an American Indian woman. In the beginning, she describes the way that minority groups are perceived as "cashing in" on tragedy, mentioning a former relationship with a man who would spend money on her out of "pity" for her situation. She makes it clear that this was not the ideal situation, as the men who gave her money often drained her emotionally (as she notes that she "gave them too much"). She described the judgement and questioning she experienced from fellow women, and this essay answers their insistence on her telling a story. The hardship and grief she describes in this essay allows the reader to understand and sympathize with her if they were judging her at the beginning of the essay. Using a metaphor to describe herself, Mailhot says she's a "river widened by misery". She uses simile frequently, such as in one of the final lines of the piece: "Her hands felt like rose petals, her eyes soft and round like buttons". These similes provide comforting imagery that characterizes Mailhot's grandmother as a caring, maternal figure. This piece is unique as a nonfiction piece because almost seems to address readers directly, by leading in by stating that women have asked her for her story. Even if a woman isn't reading, the reader will still get the sense that Mailhot is presenting her life to an audience and putting herself in a vulnerable space, opening herself up to potential criticism and also pity.
3/26/2021 10:58:11 am
More recently in my college career, I found creative nonfiction to be a genre that I really really enjoyed both reading and writing. Out of all the different things we had to read today for class, I was really drawn to the piece titled “The Lonely Ruralist” and the way the beauty of a world unknown to me was described and explained. I think what was so special about this piece is that it was such a small amount of writing (10 pages feels like a lot but it really isn’t that much space when establishing characters and setting and everything like that) yet I felt connected to the land and the lifestyle that the author, Janisse Ray, described.
3/26/2021 10:58:18 am
Based on Heart Berries by Terese Marie, her thesis is everyone has a personal story that has potential to be told. It should not be left unheard of. An important point that Teresa stresses is that everyone is unmovable. That means follow your dreams and do not let someone tell you otherwise. Nobody can take away from who you are as a person or by blood. The reason for writing Heart Berries was from a personal story that refused to be heard. According to the text: “I’m a river widened by misery, and the potency of my language is more than human” (7). The metaphor is another way to describe feeling bottled up emotion to where misery or depression starts to settle in. The only way for this author to overcome misery was to write this story down. For fiction writing, a few characters are developed throughout this essay. An important character is Terese’s grandmother, who is at the heart of the play. There was not much that she had asked of Teresa, but one of these things were to “pray properly” (4). Compressed time is described as her Grandmother: on Earth, time to spend with each other is short. Most time spent was grieving after her Grandmother passed: “Time seems measured by grief and anticipatory grief. I don’t think she even measured time” (7). The last line is stating that her grandmother never took life for granted. There were a number of imagery symbols that described her Grandmother: “Her hands felt like rose petals, and her eyes were soft and round like buttons” (7). Her Grandmother loved things that were sweet: “Carnations and canned milk” (7). Part of the essay that feels like it would not be fiction is the characters. The main character is Teresa who is a real author. She also writes about her Grandmother, who was a family member. There is also her mother who advises her to embrace gifts that she possesses. History of Indian’s religion feels unique that would not be found in fiction. Grandmother would tell stories that would bring children inside their house, take laxatives then bring in newspaper. This was her way of deworming children that had been learned in residential school which is often demonstrated by nuns and priests. Left over bones were built for boarding schools.
Brittany Ann Oppenheimer
3/29/2021 12:39:17 pm
"We At Old Birds Welcome Messages From God, Even If Unverifiable."
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