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.

One Moment of Unwanted Falseness in Jeanette Walls’s The Glass Castle

Walls’s book is a memoir about her nomadic childhood with well-meaning but narcissistic parents. At one house in gold-mining country they live with many stray animals, including an injured buzzard her father brought home one day. His name was Buster. Just before the moment in question, young Jeanette has encouraged her father to drive the car as fast as possible on the highway, causing it to overheat and break down.

We sat there for a long time. I could see buzzards circling high in the distance, which reminded me of that ingrate Buster. Maybe I should have cut him some slack. With his broken wing and lifetime of eating roadkill, he probably had a lot to be ungrateful about. Too much hard luck can create a permanent meanness of spirit in any creature.

I hate this paragraph and all the lies it tries to tell. It’s like: just about every memoir I read would be so much better as a novel. Please, book industry, recover from your true-story addiction.