by Mike O’Mary
Twenty years ago, when I got an MFA in creative writing, fiction and poetry were the only options when it came to areas of emphasis. Since then, creative nonfiction has gained equal footing with fiction and poetry in the eyes of academia, and many MFA programs now offer an emphasis in creative nonfiction.
Of course, readers are less interested in the views of academia than in a good read. Consequently, readers have known for decades what MFA programs have finally figured out: creative nonfiction is hot! And there are many places to publish -– everywhere from Harper’s to your local paper. In fact, before I published creative nonfiction “essays” in the Sunday Magazines of the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and others, I got my first breaks with newspapers like the Peoria Journal Star and the Joliet Herald.
In a www.creativenonfiction.org article, Lee Gutkind, often described as the “Godfather of creative nonfiction,” says creative nonfiction “offers flexibility and freedom while adhering to the basic tenets of reportage. In creative nonfiction, writers can be poetic and journalistic simultaneously.”
In that same article, Gutkin quotes Gay Talese, who described creative nonfiction this way: “Though often like fiction, it is not fiction. It is, or should be, as reliable as the most reliable reportage, although it seeks a larger truth than is possible through the mere compilation of verifiable facts.”
There are lots of great examples of authors who sought “a larger truth” in their creative nonfiction. Some of my favorites are Joan Didion (The White Album and Slouching Toward Bethlehem), Michael Herr (Dispatches), Barry Lopez (Arctic Dreams), Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes), Tom Wolfe (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Right Stuff), Maxine Hong Kingston (The Woman Warrior), and Mary Karr (The Liar’s Club). Who are your favorite authors of creative nonfiction? And when do you plan to join their ranks?
Mike O’Mary is founding dreamer of Dream of Things, a book publisher currently accepting creative nonfiction stories for anthologies on 15 topics.