Non-Fiction Identity Crisis
Today on NPR, Tina Brown talked about narrative non-fiction (The Woman Who Named God is narrative non-fiction). She quoted Gay Talese, who apparently once said that non-fiction writers are second class citizens, the Ellis Island of writers. This struck home. Are we? Then Tina Brown talked about how brilliant narrative non-fiction writers are and I listened to this story as I drove into Boston to tape my first tv interview for my new work of yes, narrative non-fiction, and wondered about why I write what I write. I remember some audience member coming up to me after a reading and saying, charlotte, you are so creative. Why don’t you write novels? And, I thought, after all of these years of writing: poems, a screenplay, stories — nothing has taxed my imagination more than these daunting non-fiction projects. Always, there are the facts. And then, there is the imagination. And, the problem is how to imagine the facts into scenes that are still somehow True, whatever that means, really. I had a favorite professor in college who used to tell us not to let ourselves be dominated by the tyranny of fact. But I can’t just make things up. I have to make what happened come alive. Inject life into dusty old things. Not very glamorous, perhaps. But then, this is what I like to read. Essays. Susan Orleans, David Foster Wallace. Or my new favorite writer, Dawn Potter, whose work has reminded me how much I love this stuff we write. Whatever it is, really. The lines blur.