One Success

(Photo: Dinty W. Moore)
In the aftermath of from November, not only has my pedagogy paper, “Anything but the Truth: Lies in Nonfiction”, been accepted at the 2011 AWP Conference, but I was selected to deliver the Nonfiction Forum’s craft lecture.

I keep wanting to call it a keynote. I’m just going to call it the 2011 AWP Conference Pedagogy Forum in Nonfiction’s Keynote Craft Lecture.

Here’s some of the gist of my paper:

This exercise asks students to focus on form and structure while keeping content off their radars. Specifically, students are told to write an essay in which nothing is true, everything is made up. They cannot, however, produce fiction. This tension helps us talk in class about just what it is that makes an essay an essay. If nonfiction is no longer beholden to “the truth”, what makes it distinct from other genres?

I did this with my graduate students this semester as an in-class exercise, and they all (or, well, those that spoke up) seemed to love it. What I did was give them titles of essays on index cards. I recall “On In-Laws” being one of them. The questions I had are the questions I have about nonfiction that interest me. Who starts with history? Who (like me, all the time) leans on etymology for insight? Who explores through personal narrative and who avoids it?

Of course, writing something in which nothing is true is impossible. A lot of them go to the truth. It’s not a problem; they have to, really. Maybe it doesn’t logically follow (please remark) that because it’s impossible to make everything up, it thus is equally impossible to make nothing up. Maybe this isn’t a sound argument for the allowance of invention in nonfiction.

At any rate, I’ve got a 15-minute paper to write before February.

Status Update

  1. My laptop crashed again. I just got it back today.
  2. I filed my dissertation last week. It’s a story collection titled The ‘I’ of My Story. I’m aware of this title’s poorness.
  3. I went to the AWP Conference in Denver last week. Thanks to everyone who stopped by The Cupboard‘s shared table with Octopus Books, and extra thanks to those who subscribed to us or bought things. Like the T-shirt seen here, worn by a homeless man we treated to breakfast: blog-reader and new friend Dinty W. Moore introduced himself to me, spoke highly of the MFA program at the University of Alabama, and then went on to become AWP president, maybe not in that order. (In fact, certainly not in that order, but I’m shifting chronology in order to achieve a certain effect, which is a kind of in-joke between me and Mr. Moore).
  4. I’m beginning a tenure-track job in the fall teaching nonfiction at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, did I ever officially mention? Met several current and former MFA students last week, and all signs point to a very exciting fall for me.
  5. N & I are looking to rent a place in Tuscaloosa or Birmingham. Please forward any leads to dave =at= davemadden dot org.
  6. When I left last week the large, well, tree (I just spent ten minutes in a field guide to trees and my best guess is an elm) in our back patio was all branch and now it’s all little white flowers and the beginnings of leaves. Give me a couple more weeks and maybe I’ll do a better job of identifying it. Or maybe you can do so now:
  7. Graduation’s in three-and-a-half weeks. Here is an early present N bought me in Denver, the beginning of what I hope to make a nice collection of old male portraits:

    At any rate, graduation looms. My student days will soon be over.

“Learning from Movies in Rendering Fiction Characters”

Just found out that my short pedagogy paper (see above title) was accepted for the pedagogy panels at the 2010 AWP conference. It’s in Denver in April. It’s not a terribly huge thing (dozens upon dozens of people get accepted), but still nice to hear.

Here are the basics of the thing I’ll be presenting:

First, students are shown a clip from a movie with the sound cut out. The task here is simple: students take all the notes they can and try to uncover as much about the characters as possible. This can be done collectively, as a class, or competitively, in groups. Practically any film’s opening scene could be used, but one especially effective movie to screen is Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Its opening seven minutes is devoted to the titular family’s backstory, and it includes a voiceover narration that rather self-consciously mirrors the narrative voice in third-person omniscient fiction. When the film clip is over, students are informally quizzed on what they learned. “Tell me about these characters,” is a reasonable prompt. “What did you notice?” Students will then provide everything they noticed and deduced about the characters simply by gauging their looks and watching them act. The extent of students’ observations should be recorded on a black- or whiteboard, and students should be pressed to share every last detail. Then, the film clip is shown again, this time with sound. This time around, students take notes only on the new information they receive through the more discursive modes of dialogue and contextual narration. Afterward, they share their findings. Invariably, the seen information far outweighs the heard.

Now I get to apply for travel funding from my department. The questions:

  • Do I drive or do I fly? Denver is one of three cities in the world I can fly to directly from Lincoln.
  • What hotel should I stay in? The conference hotel is, five months prior to the conference, sold out, quizzically.
  • At which hotel’s Starbucks will R.O. Butler park himself visibly and expectantly?
  • How many people will walk by The Cupboard’s table, at which I and Adam will be sitting smilingly with the boys from Octopus Books?
  • How can we ensure this conference expands an additional day to pack in more time visiting with friends I now see once a year, only at this conference?

To those friends: I’m sorry. We’re just all so far away.

(Part two of “Lush Life” coming tomorrow promise.)