AWP2015: Recent Trends in Nonfiction

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 5.17.02 PMPanelists: Janet Heller, Laura Julier, Hila Ratzabi, Kim Wyatt

Beginning with a brief history of the creative nonfiction’s’ emergence as a popular art form (Heller) and ending with a focus on more specific, regional trends (Wyatt), “Recent Trends in Creative Nonfiction” mimicked the form of a collaborative essay, meandering in and out of four distinct perspectives, developing in four main movements.

Janet Heller cofounded the journal Primavera and began publishing nonfiction in the late 1970s, a time when it was difficult to find jobs teaching in the genre. During the panel, Heller tracked the current emphasis on radio essays and hybrid forms. However, she explained that hybridity is not “new.” Hybridity, rather, informs every genre, dating back to works such as Don Quixote and Tom Jones. In addition to hybridity, Heller outlined characteristics that editors are currently looking for in nonfiction writing: 1) research and a personal angle, 2) an original approach in topic or form, emphasizing detail, and 3) unique insights, topics, or images.

In her portion of the panel, Laura Julier, editor of Fourth Genre, focused on the emergence of the video essay. Fourth Genre has recently begun to generate video essays from nonfiction content originally published in the journal. Julier calls this process an “act of translating.” Video essays often include a sequence of drawings and cutouts layered with an audio track. It has taken the Fourth Genre staff almost two years to create their first video essay, which will be published as online content in the coming months. Julier emphasized that video tests the very form of the essay, allowing its unique aims to infiltrate online spaces.

Hila Ratzabi, poetry editor for Storyscape, began by interrogating “the genre’s expansiveness.” Storyscape does not publish writing under traditional genre categories. Rather, writers submit their work as “truth,” “untruth,” or “we don’t know and they won’t tell us.” Ratzabi described a few scenarios where these categories have been particularly helpful for writers, including a fictional piece that contained an emotional “truth” and an author who considered her remembered “truth” to be flawed. Ratzabi stressed Storyscape’s interest in the in-between. “The notion of truth is a comforting fiction,” Ratzabi said. “Unlike reality, it holds us and does not let us go.”

Kim Wyatt of Bona Fide Books in Lake Tahoe closed the panel by sharing recent trends in collaboration and regionalism: “People really want to read about where they live.” Books help build communities, said Wyatt, and in the areas surrounding Lake Tahoe, these trends are being driven by readership. People are requesting more writing about where they live from Bona Fide Books, and the press has responded by releasing at least one regional title per month.

Nonfiction trends related to technology and hybridity probably hold the most potential to excite nonfiction writers. However, this panel felt balanced by its attention to simple guidelines and the reemergence of regional publishing opportunities— the discussion held something valuable for nonfiction writers of every kind.

Erica Trabold (@ericatrabold) is a writer of family and memory. Her essays and comics have appeared or are forthcoming in Seneca Review, Weave Magazine, Penumbra, and others. She writes and teaches in Oregon, where she is pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction.


Visit Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies to browse our recent issues (Fall 2014 and Spring 2015), explore our classroom resources, and to subscribe to the journal (it’s free!).

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