ASSAY: A JOURNAL OF NONFICTION STUDIES
The fall 2014 arrival of Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies into the limited landscape of creative writing studies journals marks a significant moment in the legitimization of creative nonfiction (CNF) as a distinct area of academic study with its own conventions, epistemologies, and pedagogies. Looking to scholarship on CNF pedagogy published prior to Assay’s debut, it would seem at first glance as though only the discipline of composition studies has had a stake in teaching students to write the genre—although that is obviously not the case. Current NCTE president-elect Douglas Hesse explains the genre’s academic and social origins in “Who Owns Creative Nonfiction,” and he speculates as to why it seemed, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, to belong to creative writing more so than composition. Initially to answer the question posed in his title he says, “At some level it really doesn’t matter, as long as whoever claims it isn’t selfish” (261). While it may not be a case of selfishness per se, there is an interesting but understandable disconnect between the disciplinary positionality of those who teach the majority of CNF writing courses and the disciplinary positionality of the majority of those who have written about teaching college students to write CNF over the last two and a half decades.
Since 1989 with the publication of Chris Anderson’s edited collection Literary Nonfiction: Theory, Criticism, Pedagogy, only a relatively small number of journal articles and chapters in edited collections have appeared discussing college-level CNF writing pedagogy specifically. Despite the ever-growing number of undergraduate and graduate-level courses in CNF that exist within creative writing programs across the United States and other English-speaking nations, almost everyone who has published on the topic of CNF writing pedagogy (not craft, about which much more has been published) is a scholar with a background in more than one English studies’ discipline—usually but not always creative writing and composition studies. This means that the intended audience for most CNF pedagogical scholarship in the past has been mostly teachers of first-year composition, advanced composition, and other composition-studies-situated personal writing courses who might decide to bring CNF craft into their classes (for example, through teaching a unit on literacy narrative or memoir or immersion journalism), not necessarily creative writing teachers teaching full semester courses in CNF. This makes sense. CNF is still quite new to the academy—that is, when it is understood as CNF and not just some iteration of the personal essay as it has been taught in first-year composition classes on and off since the late 1960s. More importantly, however, is this: In a creative writing disciplinary climate where creative publications are valued far over scholarly ones both in terms of tenure and personal preference, theory and practice-centric scholarship by creative writers has been few and far between before the recent influx of creative writing studies scholarship. This has, unfortunately, perpetuated a cycle of creative writing teachers teaching without much guidance. However, as Stephanie Vanderslice notes in the foreword to the 2011 Dispatches from the Classroom: Graduate Students on Creative Writing Pedagogy, publications like Dispatches should be seen as “a forecast of the ‘better days’ in store for our growing discipline, where those who would scorn their own teaching really are a dying breed” (xiii). The publication of Alexandria Peary and Tom C. Hunley’s edited collection Creative Writing Pedagogies for the Twenty-First Century published in May 2015 is the latest harbinger of better days for the teaching of all creative writing, just as Assay is for nonfiction specifically.
Prior to the fall of 2014, perhaps the best and most recent example of newfound theorized practice acceptance regarding creative writing-situated CNF practitioners in particular comes from Phillip Lopate’s spring 2011 Creative Nonfiction column “The Essay: Exploration or Argument” in which he laments that CNF lacks a unifying theory. He notes that those who teach and write CNF “are flying by the seat of our pants, in almost complete ignorance of oratorical and rhetorical terminology that goes all the way back to classical Greece and Rome” and that we need to “trace our strategies back to their sources and steep ourselves in rhetorical knowledge as well as Montaignian insouciance” (59). While I do not find it particularly prudent to trace CNF strategies all the way back to antiquity at a time when we do not fully understand the strategies within a contemporary context, Lopate’s statement did prompt me to ask: in what ways are CNF pedagogical practices already theorized, and how might this differ based on the disciplinary background of the instructor?
My aim, then, in this bibliographic essay—as the first part of a bigger qualitative project on the teaching of CNF—is to look back so we can move forward with conversations regarding what and how we can and should teach college students at various levels about CNF writing in the future. I cover key texts on the teaching of CNF mostly found in well-known publications with high circulations—namely College English, Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, and Creative Nonfiction—and/or are written by major figures who champion CNF from a composition studies or creative writing standpoint. I place CNF pedagogical scholarship within a historical context and synthesize the rationales each published author explores in relation to why they teach CNF and/or what they emphasize with their students about the genre, exposing gaps and opening up spaces for innovation that contributors to Assay and elsewhere can continue to fill. I am guided by the notion that there is much we can learn from studying the various rationales for teaching CNF writing across creative writing and composition studies, the subject positions these CNF teachers assume in relation to their writing and teaching, and the teaching methodologies that these CNF teachers utilize.
She then goes on to explain the aims, procedures, and subject matter for her upper-division undergraduate and graduate CNF-centric courses. She wants each of her students “to write very well, in a diversity of nonfiction modes, for a real audience (or audiences) of the student’s choosing, and to attain clarity, grace, and an individual style in the process; to develop some measure of ease and efficiency in their writing process(es); and to publish” (97). In order to meet these personal, transactional goals, she asks her students to be risk takers “willing to experiment with subject, form, and style” and write about people, places, science, controversy, etc., for audiences outside of the immediate one provided in the classroom—a practice she describes as “the best incentive I know for encouraging students to use the techniques of creative nonfiction” (98). Notice that for Bloom (as for Hesse, Bishop, and Root) being personal has nothing to do with engaging in solipsism; in fact, she goes as far as to insinuate that ethos in CNF is both socially and personally constructed, as she uses the phrase “carefully contrived . . . personae” to describe the way a writer chooses to present herself in a given text for a given rhetorical effect.
The 2004 CNF special section of “From the Classroom” in Pedagogy, where Root’s “Variations” was published and where Bloom also appears again offering an approach to teaching stylistic compression, brings together a collection of (occasionally theory-grounded but rarely theory-articulated) CNF pedagogical practices. One of the bigger problems tackled in those pages is that of promoting resistance to the push toward “juicy” confessional subject matter in the CNF classroom, a problem fueled by the publication of popular, controversial works like Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss and Lauren Slater’s Prozac Diary around the turn of the twenty-first century. Jenny Spinner, another composition studies/creative writing scholar, covers the topic of giving CNF students the freedom to write about what may seem like trivial subject matter in “When ‘Macaroni and Cheese Is Good’ Enough: Revelation in Creative Nonfiction.” There she makes an argument for teaching CNF as rhetorically situated discourse, saying that “[o]ur goal as creative nonfiction instructors is to offer our students various tools for digging and to help them translate their discoveries for their readers. What we seek is not so much the profound or the packaged as the genuine (and genuinely appealing)” (316, emphasis added).
Finally, in Rochelle Harris’s theory-rich and often-cited Pedagogy article (also from 2004 but from a different issue than the one covered above) titled “Encouraging Emergent Moments: The Personal, Critical, and Rhetorical in the Writing Classroom,” she explains the goals of CNF in terms of how writing in the genre can empower students through “a reflexive understanding of the self, the word, and the world” (408). She then goes on in her article to illustrate how composing CNF can give students the opportunity to “become active participants in critiquing and transforming unjust social institutions . . . at the intersections of the personal-critical- rhetorical” (402). Harris refers to such intersections when they occur within student CNF texts as “emergent moments” where “the student can hold multiple perspectives simultaneously and reflexively” (403). In elaborating upon the vast potential these emergent moments, she adds a much-needed element to the CNF pedagogical conversation through her discussion of how these student-produced works of CNF can function:
Students’ texts can be heteroglossic counternarratives to combat hegemony; they can be ways to develop students’ critical consciousness, tools for the study of language, articulations of self and situatedness, and attempts at naming and transforming the world. The uses and purposes of student texts are more critical—more apt to be empowering and lead to genuine social critique and action—when they emerge from (personal) writing on topics students choose to pursue. (416)
This critical expressivist articulation empowers CNF writer-teachers with greater agency as well, as Harris provides the language to articulate the genre as a public practice that pushes back against accusations of CNF being little more than merely self-indulgent group therapy sanctioned by university English departments in order to recruit more students to the major. As recently as the spring 2015 issue of Assay, Jessica McCaughey writes of how she uses Harris’s emergent moment theory as a lens through which to analyze the results of the narrative writing assignment in her CNF-themed first-year writing course. McCaughey illustrates how this theory provides language and a framework not only for articulating the outcomes of a CNF course but also, more generally, for understanding how student writing can function at the critical expressivist intersection of personal and cultural narrative.
A characteristic of the discourse that holds each of these composition studies situated pedagogical writers together—which remains true in McCaughey’s article as well as Robert Brooke’s “Teaching ‘Rhetoric: The Essay’” published in Assay’s first issue—is that they each tend to explain the writing of CNF as a rhetorically situated practice and tend to argue for the teaching of CNF in ways that connect the genre’s functions and conventions with the goals of composition studies. This means that they claim to discuss with their students what it means to write for “real” audiences, both in and beyond the classroom, and give their students a sense of what it means to write for such audiences. The idea of writing as a transaction between reader and writer is present in the published texts explored here insofar as these scholars mention the concept, but none except Root and Harris focus on that idea as what makes CNF different from dominant conceptions of other genres under creative writing’s purview. The importance of the fact that each of the writer-scholars covered in this section relies on the wealth of pre-existing scholarship in composition studies and rhetorical theory cannot be understated. Interestingly, the need for CNF students to understand the threshold concept of rhetorical situation is every bit as prevalent in the small handful of CNF pedagogical texts written by those coming from a creative writing rather than a composition studies standpoint. Those writing from a creative writing disciplinary positionality tend not to rely on previously published scholarship or use standard rhetorical terminology as often to discuss those emphases in their pedagogical approaches. Instead, they tend to rely on practitioner knowledge alone.
Teaching CNF Without Reliance on Composition Studies Theories and Principles
When the rhetorical situations (i.e. potential audiences, issues, contexts, and purposes) of student writing in a CNF course are not defined or analyzed, this can create problems for writers who then are made to believe that pleasing an instructor to get a good grade is the primary goal of a writing act. Focusing on a similar “juicy subject” problem to Spinner’s mentioned in the previous section, Mary Pope, who teaches CNF from a creative writing disciplinary positionality, shares a narrative of the consequences of disregarding everyday material practices in “The Teacher as Hostess: Celebrating the Ordinary in Creative Nonfiction Workshops,” published in 2005. When workshopping in-progress pieces in an MFA-level CNF course, she recalls her professor often asking “where is the sexual tension?,” something absent from Pope’s essays about place and her experiences working in a bakery in a small town. The only published works they studied and discussed in class were memoirs of “sex, cancer, and depression,” and she was made to feel bad by her professor and classmates for writing about such a mundane topic (105). When she became a CNF teacher herself, she realized that “[p]roviding a class with a reading list that is rich in examples of writing about ordinary experiences gives students confidence in their own subject-rich lives and respect for the subject-rich lives of their fellow students” (106). Here we get an actual sense of a material experience via a description of how a writer teaches CNF writing, and we are asked to see the importance of topical diversity when choosing readings for a full semester CNF course. Ultimately Pope puts most of the blame for the ineffective MFA experience in her past on her teacher who did not celebrate the ordinary or see past what was fashionable in CNF at the time. That party failed, Pope argues, because the hostess failed. I would add, though, that the party also failed because there was not a system in place to educate the hostess on effective pedagogical practices, so that Pope’s former teacher did not look beyond what she personally liked in CNF writing. 
Phillip Lopate is one of only two major figures in CNF that I can find (the other being Lee Gutkind) who have published—albeit a limited amount—on pedagogy from a standpoint that does not include any background in or research from composition studies. This is understandable, as I noted earlier, based on the promotion and tenure requirements for creative writers in the university as well as the relative lack of pedagogical training that creative writers typically receive prior to teaching their first creative writing class. Lopate’s specialty is the personal essay from a literary standpoint; his most famous work in addition to his numerous stellar personal essays is arguably the popular edited collection The Art of the Personal Essay, and in its introduction he breaks down the dominant characteristics regarding an essay’s possible authorial stances, tones, forms, topics, development, narrative and reflection strategies, and writerly tools. In “The Essay: Exploration or Argument”—the same piece I mentioned earlier in which he makes a call for a greater rhetorical understanding of CNF strategies—he confesses that an English department colleague of his once called this introduction “‘charming,’ which [he] took to mean insufficiently theorized and dilettantish” (59). Yet even without drawing on theory, per se, in “Reflection and Retrospection: A Pedagogic Mystery Story,” Lopate reflects with much insight on the possible reasons why his students make the ineffective rhetorical choice to be “resistant to the activity of retrospective thinking on the page” when writing memoir, despite his persistent calls for them to include “those moments where the writer analyzes the meaning of his or her experience” (26). I say “ineffective rhetorical choice” because Lopate connects the reflective, retrospective moves in question to ethos and transactional rhetoric when he says, “The quality of the thinking, the depth of insight, and the willingness to wrest as much understanding as one is humanly capable of arriving at—these are the guarantees to the reader that a particular author’s sensibility is trustworthy and simpatico.” He also admits to being “deeply attracted” to such passages, calling them “the dessert, the reward of the prose” (26-27), an explanation that could be tied the rhetorical concept of identification. When students complain that reflecting will clog up their narratives, he counters with the argument that reflection offers an “ongoing dialectic between their prior and present intelligences” (28, emphasis added). When they claim they want their writing to be vague so as to not “give away the mystery,” he counters saying it is “more important for the reader to develop trust in a worldly, confiding, forcefully elegant narrative voice from the start” (30), an explanation that could be tied to the rhetorical concept of ethos (or, even more specifically, Corder’s theory of generative ethos, which he defines as a narrative voice that that “issues an invitation into a commodious universe” (“Varieties of Ethical Argument” 94)). When students reason that retrospective reflection takes “away from a piece’s ‘vulnerability,’” Lopate counters with his “conviction that emotion and thinking are not mutually exclusive but can coexist: passionately argued thought can have affective warmth, just as feelings can be thoughtfully and delicately parsed” (35), ideas which again could be connected to various aspects of rhetorical theory. I’d argue that one does not necessarily need the language of rhetorical theory when one can convey the functions and rationales for certain discursive moves as eloquently and specifically as Lopate does. But it certainly can help to know how discussions of these moves fit into larger ongoing scholarly conversations connected to theories of rhetoric and writing.
Gutkind, who, similar to Lopate, makes a rhetorically-charged call for those who write CNF to “be aware of their responsibilities as writers and the scope of their potential influence and power to communicate ideas, germinate wisdom, and create change” in his 2009 interview published in The Writer’s Chronicle (Morgan), also shares a narrative of his teaching, though perhaps not with the same level of retrospective reflection as Lopate. In “The ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Creative Nonfiction, But Were Too Naïve or Uninformed to Ask’ Workshop Simulation,” Gutkind informs readers of what he teaches his students about CNF craft elements/genre characteristics via a lighthearted narrative illustrating conversations that might take place on the first day of one of his workshops. Here’s an excerpt from that text covering most of his main ideas:
“OK?” I ask. “Does everybody understand? The building blocks are scenes. The scenes aren’t scenes unless they have a beginning and an end. Something has to happen. Information—the reporting—is embedded in the scenes and between the scenes. That’s the rhythm and that’s the dance, whether it is an essay or book chapter or even the entire book. OK?” I repeat.
The “F” words in question here are “framing”—“organising by time and shape” and “focus”— “organising by meaning and content.” He ends this short work that provides little in terms of pragmatic strategies for the teaching of CNF making the claim that “when you put it all together . . . [y]ou get creative nonfiction: story and information, style and substance, frame and focus. That’s all there is to it” (180). This comes from the one of only two representative chapters on CNF in The Handbook of Creative Writing (the other covering the conventions of memoir), which is unfortunate (1) because he refers to what he’s doing as a “workshop simulation,” which reduces the concept of a CNF workshop to one where the teacher recites rudiments and the students accept them without question (which might be fun to read but is actually hard to believe), and (2) because would-be CNF teachers and writers are left with little but a to-do list of these genre conventions to share and use but no illustrations of how to share or use them beyond what Gutkind himself does throughout the piece—a move that reinforces his argument of “That’s all there is to it.” Make the moves, create art, and attract readers with prose that “captures [readers’] attention and engages their imagination” (174). Easy as pie, right? 
I do not mean to snub Gutkind here; Hesse warns not to do that when he calls uncooperative acts of cross-disciplinary finger pointing “debilitating” (“Who Owns Creative Nonfiction?” 264), and that is not my intention. Gutkind has done so much to popularize CNF both within and beyond the academy. Yet such problematic oversimplified formulas for CNF success appear in many of the craft writings available to students and teachers alike, especially those included in many popular CNF textbooks, as I cover in “Voice, Transformed.” This, I think, is related in part to the problem that Lopate describes about creative writing-situated CNF writer-teachers “flying by the seat of our pants, in almost complete ignorance of oratorical and rhetorical terminology” (“The Essay” 59) and that Bishop connects to an under-theorization of the genre and the tendency for creative writers to disregard composition pedagogy and rhetorical theory. It’s not as if established CNF writers trained in creative writing classes are poor writers of description. It’s not as if they do not know how to thoroughly research any topic of their choosing and write about it in an interesting way that is accessible to a general readership. It’s not as if they don’t love language and strive to be better practitioners of the written word. Yet there does seem to be a disconnect between creative writing-situated CNF writer-teachers and the study of how to specifically articulate and demystify the ways they and others use language (i.e., rhetoric via stylistics). And there does seem to be a disconnect between that particular group and the understanding of how to contextualize student writing outside of the teacher’s personal taste and subject matter (i.e., rhetorical situation). Even when we bring composition studies scholars back into the mix, the sum total of what had been published on these pedagogical issues ultimately provides too small a sample and, therefore, an unclear picture of how CNF instructors actually teach their classes now in the second decade of the twenty-first century—what they emphasize with their students and what outcomes they expect of their students. And those rare published works mostly from a decade ago do not represent the voices of the newest generation of CNF instructors and researchers.
In “Who Owns Creative Nonfiction?,” after Hesse expresses his desire for the owner of CNF not be selfish, he problematizes the ownership issue, trying to get to the root of why CNF does not play a bigger role in composition. One reason, he surmises, is that composition privileges academic genres over public genres. Another reason could be that composition does not foreground the subject position of writers as students; instead students are viewed as writers only when in the classroom. Hesse posits that one way to broaden the scope of composition studies and make the discipline more relevant to students would be to teach “writing as craft, as the making of textual artifacts whose maker is important as maker,” and he suggests that “articulating a relationship between creative nonfiction and composition studies would help to inscribe that subject position, not as an exclusive one but certainly as a vital one” (263). In contrast, Paul Dawson writes in Creative Writing and the New Humanities of the need for the creative writing discipline to move toward what he calls a “sociological poetics,” meaning “a poetics which encourages a view of literature [production] as a public intellectual practice, rather than a means for the empowerment of individual identities and subjectivities” (204). He wants creative writers to view language as a tool for action with “the ultimate aim of effecting social change, or at least an alteration of public opinion, beyond the refinement of disciplinary knowledge” (201). Essentially, Hesse urges compositionists to look to CNF for greater awareness of how to teach students to construct powerful texts and be writers who write for the sake of writing, while Dawson urges creative writers to develop greater awareness of the rhetorical situations they enter when they write (although he explains this in terms of literary criticism and not rhetoric, per se). Hesse wants those in composition studies to move closer toward the individualist subject position (i.e., writer as writer), and Dawson wants those in creative writing to move away from it (i.e., writer as public intellectual).
I believe these two views of the twenty-first century writer in particular can and already do converge in the critical expressivist writing space first defined by Gradin and furthered in various ways by scholars who have connected the personal to the critical and rhetorical functions and attributes of CNF writing over the last two decades, most recently in Assay and in Tara Roeder and Roseanne Gatto’s 2015 Critical Expressivism: Theory and Practice for the Composition Classroom. Yes, most CNF pedagogical scholarship has been about how to bring CNF into the composition classroom, and, therefore, the lens through which most CNF pedagogy has been described and analyzed has been a rhetorical one by default. Even though there are many aspects of the teaching of CNF specific to creative writing, I argue that this trend of reliance on relevant aspects of composition theory and rhetorical theory is one that should continue as we work to locate and articulate fused pedagogies and best teaching practices. There is no need for CNF pedagogical scholarship to start anew when composition studies offers such a strong historical and epistemological foundation from which to build contemporary CNF writing praxes. CNF writing as an area of academic study has benefitted from and, in fact, has been shaped by these scholars whose largely critical expressivist pedagogical approaches I have brought together in this article.
A publication space now exists for conversations that place nonfiction first—not privileging nonfiction as part of creative writing, literary studies, or composition studies but showcasing CNF as a genre that gets taught in different places in different ways with people of different disciplinary backgrounds in different institutional spaces. So, in light of this, what CNF pedagogical scholarship is needed? More than anything else we need diverse voices from within diverse writing programs (and across diverse cultural backgrounds) about the teaching of CNF at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. We need qualitative research conducted in CNF classes to study the rhetorical practices of CNF teaching and writing communities, research that works to better understand the impetus behind and student-learning effects of certain teaching methods, invention/craft activities, assignment types, and workshop approaches. We need to understand how to best assess what can at times be intensely personal writing. As more MFA and PhD programs require creative writing pedagogy courses, we need to understand how to best train graduate students to teach CNF specifically, which means figuring out how to articulate the similarities and differences among the teaching of poetry, fiction, academic discourse, CNF, and other commonly taught genres across English studies. The recent surge in creative writing studies scholarship signals an opportune moment for those deeply invested in the past, present, and future of CNF—regardless of disciplinary affiliation—to frame our goals for its teaching, study, and practice. This is indeed an exciting time to be working in and with the limitless potential of this expansive genre.
(1) When I make this statement, I do not count, for example, any publications that cover only the teaching of the personal essay within a composition studies context or memoir within a creative writing context because I am interested in how teachers explore the vastness of the CNF genre with their students for the purposes of this article.
(2) Check the Association of Writers and Writing Programs “Guide to Writing Programs” database for exact numbers of MA, MFA, and PhD programs with CNF emphasis at any given time.
(3) See Kelly Ritter and Stephanie Vanderslice’s edited collection Can It Be Taught? Resisting Lore in Creative Writing Pedagogy for commentary on the effects of this lack of pedagogical theorization across the entire discipline of creative writing. See Suzanne Cope’s 2012 adult education dissertation “Teaching Creative Nonfiction: Influences, Pedagogy, and Attitudes of Teachers of Adults” for evidence regarding how this lack of pedagogical theorization effects CNF writing teachers specifically.
(4) While only Literary Nonfiction broadly covers CNF writing and teaching practices, a handful of books published between the mid-1980s and the present work toward historicizing and theorizing aspects of CNF as a literary genre. See Chris Anderson’s Style as Argument: Contemporary American Nonfiction, Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative, John C. Hartsock’s A History of American Literary Journalism: The Emergence of a Modern Narrative Form, Ned Stuckey-French’s The American Essay in the American Century, Mark Tredinnick’s The Land’s Wild Music, Ross W. Winterowd’s The Rhetoric of the “Other” Literature, and Ben Yagoda’s Memoir: A History, among other books and numerous articles not mentioned here. Another less scholarly but still quite legitimate place to find CNF literary theorization is in the introductory chapters written by the editors of The Best American Essays anthology each year.
(5) See Peter Elbow’s “‘Personal Writing’ and ‘Expressivism’ as Problematic Terms” and Maja Wilson’s “John Watson Is to Introspectionism as James Berlin Is to Expressivism (And Other Analogies You Won't Find on the SAT)” for historical background and commentary on the long-term effects of social-constructionism on the teaching of personal writing in composition studies.
(6) See Tara Roeder and Roseanne Gatto’s 2015 Critical Expressivism: Theory and Practice for the Composition Classroom.
(7) I am currently working on a book manuscript tentatively titled Teaching Creative Nonfiction Writing to Undergraduates: A Critical Expressivist Enterprise in which I hope to share more about this.
(8) See Cristina Kirklighter’s Traversing the Democratic Borders of the Essay and Paul Heilker’s The Essay: Theory and Pedagogy for an Active Form.
(9) From their data set of writing composed by eleven to eighteen-year-olds, Britton and the New London School developed a continuum of student writer subject positions that has at one end the “participant” role of writer who produces transactional writing—that is, “[l]anguage to get things done . . . concerned with an end outside itself. It informs, persuades, and instructs”; the “spectator” role of writer at the other end representing one who produces poetic writing—that is, “[a] verbal construct, patterned verbalization of the writer’s feelings and ideas . . . [and] would include . . . a shaped autobiographical episode”; and the “expressive” mode located between the two primary roles, which is “[l]anguage close to the self, revealing the speaker, verbalizing his consciousness, displaying his close relationship to the reader” (227).
(10) For perhaps the best, most comprehensive CNF craft book on the market—informed by Root’s CNF pedagogical practices described here—see The Nonfictionist’s Guide. This is my go-to craft book to assign when I teach CNF workshops.
(11) Since 2008 some noteworthy examples of works that engage the truth in nonfiction discussion include David Shields’ Reality Hunger, John D’Agata and Jim Fingal’s The Lifespan of a Fact (and the numerous published responses to that work), and David Lazar’s edited collection Truth in Nonfiction: Essays. While ever an important issue in CNF circles, conversation and publication about the topic surged in response to Lauren Slater’s “metaphorical memoir” Lying and in response to James Frey’s flagrant lying about details of his life in A Million Little Pieces. The importance here is that the conversations do tend to focus on responsibility to readers, a topic that does not appear as often in discussions of fiction or poetry—highlighting the importance of rhetorical situation in relation to the writing and teaching of CNF.
(12) This piece was published prior to the proliferation of creative writing situated CNF courses and programs in the mid 1990s. Despite this fact, CNF is still being taught in advanced composition and in a variety of upper-division courses taught as part of Writing and Rhetoric undergraduate majors across the United States, with Syracuse University and the University of Colorado, Denver, having noteworthy composition studies-situated teaching of CNF. For a more recent discussion of CNF as an upper-division composition course, see Celest Martin’s “Not Just Another Pretty Classroom Genre: The Uses of Creative Nonfiction in the Writing Major” in which she makes the argument that the craft skills acquired in a CNF course (1) build awareness of rhetorical choices, (2) can be applied to literary and nonliterary types of writing, (3) teach students coming from other specialized fields to write accessible prose for nonspecialists, and (4) prepare students for jobs as freelance magazine writers. She shares a critical expressivist explanation of the genre’s potential as well, saying “[w]hat creative nonfiction offers students is a way to craft the personal if they choose to make the personal public, a way to reach the universal” (231).
(13) See Kelly Ritter’s “Professional Writers/Writing Professionals: Revamping Teacher Training in Creative Writing Ph. D. Programs” for more information on this issue.
(14) See Brooke L. Quigley’s “‘Identification’ as a Key Term in Kenneth Burke's Rhetorical Theory” for a brief explanation of this concept.
(15) In Gutkind’s defense, he does go into more detail about these six CNF genre conventions (as well as many other characteristics that he does not cover in this short piece) in his CNF guidebook, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up. He does not, however, say much else about CNF pedagogy there or elsewhere.
(16) A number of dissertations written since 2000 deal with the subject of CNF pedagogy to varying degrees (see Bourelle; Cope; Degen; Ellis; Fodrey; Goldthwaite; Grayson; Harris; Sharp).
(17) While Dawson does take into account the teaching of creative writing in America, it is important to note that he writes from an Australian higher education perspective and is, therefore, responding to a markedly different pedagogical context. Additionally, Dawson does not cover the teaching of CNF as a creative writing genre taught in Australia nor does he engage directly with American scholars like Hesse in the book, but this does not make the concept of “sociological poetics” any less compelling to the teaching of CNF.
(18) With chapters on the teaching of memoir and personal essay as genres that have the potential to help students connect personal experiences with bigger social, cultural, historical, political, environmental, etc. concerns, I argue that Critical Expressivism (which advances arguments made in Romancing Rhetorics) is certainly relevant to CNF teachers even if the book is written for an audience of composition studies teachers and the term “creative nonfiction” is only mentioned three times in 316 pages. Other tangentially relevant texts: Barbara Kamler’s 2001 Relocating the Personal: A Critical Writing Pedagogy and Danita Berg and Lori May’s 2015 edited collection Creative Composition: Inspiration and Techniques for Writing Instruction.
Click here to download a printable PDF with Works Cited.
Crystal N. Fodrey is an Assistant Professor of English and Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where she teaches courses in rhetorical theory, digital writing, professional writing, stylistics, first-year writing, environmental literature, and creative nonfiction. Her scholarship on writing pedagogy has appeared in Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy and in the edited collection The Centrality of Style.
Bernice M. Olivas
Politics of Identity in the Essay Tradition
Lynn Z. Bloom
Why the Worst Trips are the Best: The Comic Travails of Geoffrey Wolff, and Jonathan Franzen