In my newspaper days, recorded in my reporter’s notebooks was every story’s genesis. Almost daily I set out from the newsroom, notebook in hand, ready to write stories of cross-pulling preacher-bikers, social club ladies, native plant gardeners, and an ex Hanoi Hilton POW, all people and experiences I thought I might one day weave into my grapplings with fiction.
A stack of weathered, worn notebooks, an image that evokes stories ready to be told. It’s the image on the cover of In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction, a selection of 25 essays from the first 10 years of the literary magazine Creative Nonfiction founded by Lee Gutkind, the “Godfather behind creative nonfiction.”
Each piece in the collection is representative of the genre, a sort of nebulously-monikered genre that encompasses almost every form of nonfiction: personal essay, traditional reflective essays, and New Journalism or literary journalism, reportage that largely relies on narrative to get its information and ideas across.
These pieces, each in their own way, seem to capture the spirit of the journal Gutkind founded, which he reports in his introduction to the collection is a mix of “good old-fashioned reporting — facts, plus story and reflection or contemplation.” Like journalists — and some as Mark Bowden are journalists — practitioners of creative nonfiction take out their notebooks and collect interviews and gather other documentation and report their stories, but they immerse themselves in the worlds of meth addicts who stumble upon a cache of money, as Bowden does, or report and reflect upon their experience of becoming a father, as Phillip Lopate does.
These essays are not works of confessional “navel gazers,” as Gutkind reports James Wolcott infamously quipped in Vanity Fair magazine. They are explorations into the world, engaging the reader, as writers always have, seeking out, as Gutkind himself has sought as a writer, “other lifestyles, other professions, and the patchwork of prejudices and kindness that make some people different from others.” The pieces take us deeper into the world to discover the play of language, as Diane Ackerman does, or provide insight into the workings of the brain and mind and whether there is a separation between the concept of the “mind” and the physical brain, as Floyd Skloot does.