Content Tagged ‘Norman Mailer’

Oriana Fallaci

Space cadets

November 5, 2015 | 4 Comments

[Literary mind: Rebecca McClanahan.]

Among the poets

June 25, 2014 | 17 Comments

Rebecca McClanahan began our nonfiction workshop at Kenyon College each morning last week by reciting to us a poem from memory. This was impressive and inspiring. To say the least, it set a tone around yea olde oaken table.

One thing a genius does is to offer us art that’s made, in part, from our own cast-off thoughts. Or from showcasing our better impulses, often youthful, which she’s never stopped acting upon. Like memorizing poetry. I’m not smart enough myself to call Rebecca a genius. But I do know one thing. Hers is the finest literary mind I’ve ever dwelt steadily in the presence of.

(How I wished I might have run my memoir manuscript through that sensibility.)

The author of nine books, a writer of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, Rebecca led nine of us in a seminar in Literary Nonfiction, a moniker she preferred over the more commonly used Creative Nonfiction because “creative” brings up that ugly specter of truth vs. lies and bogs everyone down in what the morass means.

This can be a messy genre, nonfiction. Itself hard to define. But so fertile and varied and forgiving—part of Rebecca’s message all week. She loved Nemerov’s line about form saving the writer from his own stupidity, mentioning it more than once in the course of our exhilarating week with her. One of her own sayings also pointed to the writer’s imperative to transcend, with form, mere lived experience:

“You cannot start a fire with one stick. You need two things for the text to move forward.”

The challenging and transformative aspect of the conference at Kenyon is that it’s generative. You don’t send ahead a manuscript or bring one with you. You create new work right there, from prompts given in the workshops themselves. You share it with your classmates, and at some point you read your best piece to everyone

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Perils of persona

December 12, 2013 | 11 Comments

Ten Notions About Persona in Nonfiction:

1. “Truth is subjectivity.”—Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript.

Every human experience is first passed through the scrim of emotion. A vital tool in our kit. Consider the jury system.

Art is made from emotion, about emotion, elicits emotion.

But for making art from experience, like Kierkegaard did, craft is required. Techniques that tell the reader a wiser intelligence is at work to wrest something shapely from the quotidian, from chaos, from mere moods. Part of this craft of presentation is the creation of a palatable, truth-telling persona. Witty or somber. Earnest or flip. Glimpsed in the margins, or all over everything like white on rice.

This is an approved practice. Rock solid. Take it to the bank.

2. “A sensibility we construct into some kind of figure is what keeps the reader going.”—former Atlantic editor Richard Todd, to a workshop I attended.

This emphasizes Persona 1: the person telling the story, someone come to testify or entertain. Both, really, always.

Often as well there’s Persona 2: the former self in the experience being depicted or discussed. Behind these, there’s the writer creating each persona. Is that Persona 3? Or is that “you”?

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Memoirist, skin thy own cat

October 5, 2012 | 14 Comments

Salman Rushdie on the novel’s debt to memoir, memoir’s debt to New Journalism—and why the novel is harder than either. The foment over Salman Rushdie’s new memoir led me in a roundabout way to interviews with him on YouTube. One of the best is the long talk above, recorded at Emory University, when he was in the midst of writing Joseph Anton—apparently he wrote some of it there—because he drills into memoir’s granular issues. I got the sense in this …

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Leverage of persona in memoir

March 18, 2012 | 22 Comments

Childhood tales by Jeannette Walls, Harry Crews & Annie Dillard. Joining millions of others, I’ve now read Jeannette Walls’s memoir The Glass Castle. Walls wins the prize for modern memoir’s most dysfunctional family, edging out even Frank McCourt. Yet her damaged father inculcated Walls’s belief in herself—he made her feel special even as she wore filthy rags. And her equally neglectful but uniquely disordered mother banned self-pity and enshrined art of all kinds. Walls became a journalist, focused on celebrity …

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Poetry & journalism

March 23, 2011 | 2 Comments

Archibald MacLeish’s great essay on literature vs. transcription. Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better.—John Updike As with David Shields, when Archibald MacLeish talks about “poetry” he means poetry in the larger sense of writing that is literary art vs. writing considered a mere transcription of events. Good journalism was never that, but exemplary works of reportage have always tended to get lumped by the literati—perhaps more so in MacLeish’s day—with garden-variety news …

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Dave Eggers on journalism’s virtues

May 3, 2010 | 2 Comments

Author Dave Eggers burst onto the literary scene with his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius; his latest book, Zeitoun, is about the Homeland Security/FEMA ordeal suffered by a Syrian-American immigrant and his family in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Eggers recently gave an interview to Jeff Gordinier for Creative Nonfiction (Spring 2010) in which he talked about the immersion journalism he undertook to report Zeitoun. He talked about the influence of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road …

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