The ballroom fills with guests chatting, donning their red lanyards reading CREATIVE NONFICTION in white text. I sit three rows from the front, sipping complimentary coffee, looking around and wondering if I will make any friends. This is my first big conference, and these large socializing groups remind me of the high school cafeteria, searching for a face I know in the sea of grinning faces on the first day of school.
It doesn’t take long, however, and this isn’t like high school at all. I meet Ruth, a freelance journalist sitting next to me, and then Jackie, another twenty-five year old like me, eager to learn more about creative nonfiction. Soon we are talking about writing over coffee and I am at ease with my new peers when Anjali, conference coordinator, introduces Lee Gutkind, the godfather of Creative Nonfiction.
“Hey, Hi,” he says, holding up a friendly hand. He is glad we are here and to see how the conference has grown, how the genre has grown over the years. He tells us that Creative Nonfiction, the magazine, started twenty-three years ago in his dining room in Squirrel Hill, PA. That before, people laughed at the genre and its silly title “creative nonfiction,” that it was a struggle to legitimize the genre in the beginning.
“And now,” he continues, “we are growing like mad…. It’s a movement, not a moment.”
And over the next few days that’s what it feels like.
Jackie and I find that we are registered for the same classes, and later we go to lunch in the city. Over lunch in the park we exchange ideas, we scrawl notes on napkins, recommendations of writers the other should check out. We ask questions about creative nonfiction as a genre, the ethics, the faultiness of memory, and what we think still needs to be written about. And while meeting agents and editors is great, this is also why we come here. To share what we know in the hopes of learning more about ourselves and the craft of writing creative nonfiction. The conference could have any number of great classes and teachers, all fine and good, but it’s just as much about the small connections, the conversations at lunch, the discussions in the hallway of the hotel that make this conference so worth it.
Find out more on Twitter at #cnfwc16 or at the conference website: www.creativenonfiction.org/conference.
Annalise Mabe is completing an MFA at the University of South Florida, where she writes poetry, comics, and nonfiction. Her work has been featured/is forthcoming in Brevity, The Offing, The Rumpus, Booth, Word Riot, Hobart, and was nominated by The Boiler for a 2016 Pushcart Prize. She reads for Sweet: A Literary Confection and is an editor at Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art. She lives in Tampa, Florida, where she teaches composition and creative writing at USF.