Saturday, August 11, 2007
As a nonfiction writer, I feel criticism of the genre somewhat acutely. The most recent genre jab I’ve come across is an article in this month’s Bookslut about how MFA programs constrict by forcing students to define themselves as, say, a “fiction writer” versus a “poetry writer.” The author, Weston Cutter, then goes on to discuss nonfiction writing, which he describes as “the cult of I-feel-your-pain’s.” At which point I pretty much wrote him off as a bad writer. (Sorry Cutter.)
I don’t really understand how or why memoir came to be seen as representative of the entire genre of nonfiction. Nor do I understand why nonfiction is often typecast as the ugly stepchild of fiction and poetry, this mooning around kid whose favorite activity is navel-gazing. Luckily, I think there’s a Cinderella moment a-coming. More and more magazines and newspapers are publishing long-form nonfiction. The Washington Post had an extensive front page piece on Dick Cheney a few weeks ago that they printed over the course of three days. It wasn’t particularly timely; it was an in-depth profile of the man, and it was great nonfiction. Granta’s book Reportage is filled with amazing essays by stunning authors, such as Ryszard Kapuscinski, that really showcase the genre, and prove nonfiction is not synonymous with ‘it’s all about me-ness.’ Nonfiction, like poetry and fiction, runs the gamut, and I’d love to have my place on this blog be as the one reminding people of that. What do others think? Is nonfiction still viewed as a somewhat secondary art form? And why do you think people now equate nonfiction solely with memoir?