Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Truth Is Beauty

Here are two pieces that wrestle with the tension between the words “creative” and “non-fiction” in the words “creative nonfiction.” I think I disagree with these authors, coming down on the truth side. If you want to embellish and make things up in your quest for capital T Truth, then why not write fiction? For me, memoir would be INFINITELY easier if I got to play around with the facts…which is why I respect good memoir, though I guess I now need to view it all with a slightly jaundiced eye.

I’m sure many disagree.

Anyway, the pieces:

“Memoirs Are Literature, Not Journalism” by Vivian Gornick: “At the heart of my memoir lay a revelation that had taken me two years of writing to isolate: I could not leave my mother because I had become my mother. This complicated insight was my bit of wisdom, the history I wanted badly to trace out. The context in which the book is set -- our life in the Bronx in the 1950s, alternating with walks taken in Manhattan in the 1980s -- was the situation; the story was the insight. What mattered most to me was not the literalness of the situation, but the emotional truth of the story. If the book has any strength at all, it is because I remained scrupulously faithful to the story, not the situation.”

“Fiction, non-fiction and 'truth' Rao's 'In Hanuman's Hands' is as 'true' as it can be” by Cheeni Rao: “People want to know if I wrote a "fake" memoir, a la James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces," and, honestly, I can't blame them. Few people can trace their family line back nearly a thousand years or babble wide-eyed about the hallucinatory conversations with gods that led them back from the abyss of crack addiction and crime.

“That I eventually got a college degree and then graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop -- and now am more likely to be seen walking my dog than mugging a wayward drunk -- makes it seem all the more preposterous.

“It probably doesn't help that in the preface I say my memoir isn't a factually accurate account. All the same, when asked about the question of "truth," I always say the same thing: writing manufactures its own truth.”


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.