Paul Gruchow and Brian Turner: Two Memoirs Go Cubistic
Sentences like these from Paul Gruchow’s extraordinary memoir (Letters to a Young Madman: A Memoir, Levins Publishing, 2012) have a monumental feel that commands special handling. Writing about big things necessitates urgency—not to hurry the story into print but to get it told right. Sometimes the need is so great that the customary ways just won’t do. Gruchow and Brian Turner (My Life as a Foreign Country: A Memoir, W. W. Norton, 2013)—as unlikely a pair of authors to appear in the same sentence—shared that literary urgency. Gruchow, essayist lost to suicide, and Turner, poet and Iraq war combat survivor—I bring them together here to look at how they turned from their usual way of doing things to make their stories into powerful memoir. Click here to continue reading.
Whenever a nonfiction writer is caught making stuff up we in the field experience a small tremor of interest and debate, and some of us heed the call to take up our various sides of the issue. For one instance, the recent Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal, which reproduces a D’Agata essay, “What Happens There,” surrounded by the dialogue between author and fact checker. In short, the original text, which deals with the suicide of Las Vegas teenager Levi Presley, includes conflated and misstated details, which Fingal discovers and attempts to right and which D’Agata defends, sometimes to the point of absurdity. Their exaggerated interchange generates within the book all sorts of interesting questions about art and veracity in nonfiction, and, after a provocative excerpt appeared in Harper’s, generated wide-ranging dismay and outrage among the reviewing and blogging public. A number of august publications took to excoriating D’Agata (primarily; Fingal stands as readers’ exasperated proxy), but Public Radio International’s To the Best of Our Knowledge designed a show examining the question of “Writing Fiction vs. Nonfiction” for a balanced view. On that program, D’Agata explained his artistic project, stating that he was not a journalist, and exhorting that “we need to try a different sort of essaying, and then the essays become a lot more associative and they perhaps become a bit more imaginative and start taking the problematic liberties.” Click here to continue reading.
Hello to All That
In an interview with Sarah Davidson about her writing, Joan Didion discusses her belief that most writers’ styles are influenced by the people they read before they turn twenty. Of her own influences, she names Hemingway, Conrad, and James. She says, “You would never know it from reading me, but I was very influenced by Hemingway…. I learned a lot about how sentences worked. How a short sentence worked in a paragraph, how a long sentence worked. Where the commas worked,” (qtd. Davidson 18). It is precisely this love of and attention to the written word at the sentence level that makes Didion’s essays—some of the finest in literary craftsmanship—shine. Her hallmark style is evident even in the very first paragraph of “Goodbye to All That.” Click here to continue reading.
Interview with Michael Martone
During the Fall 2014 semester at Fresno State, in the first class session of an Experimental American Literature course, the class was told we’d be creating our own Blue Guide. That is, we would be reading Michael Martone’s The Blue Guide to Indiana and then, as a class, we’d create our own Blue Guide to Fresno. This imitation assignment proved to be enjoyable for the entire class, and resulted in Blue Guide entries covering everything from The Big Fresno Fair, to the Turkey Vulture Migration, to a Mega-Church Wine Walk. Having very much enjoyed both the book and the imitation assignment, I was thrilled to do the following interview with Michael Martone. Click here to continue reading.