Nonfiction guru Lee Gutkind describes the new incarnation of Creative Nonfiction (big, bold, red!) in a style befitting any charismatic leader:
Some years ago, I began stating that creative nonfiction was a movement – and not a moment. The literary journal, Creative Nonfiction, sparked the movement by legitimizing the genre with the academic writing world and providing all writers with a voice and an outlet for serious and often very long nonfiction work. And now the genre has taken off and is coming into its own. And we are responding to the movement – and astounding and continuing growth – by evolving from journal to magazine.
This evolution is not merely physical – from small format to large; from text-only pages to lots of varied design elements; from black type to reverse type and shades of red; from uniform font sizes and styles to immense variation in the type; from academic appearance to popular magazine – but also substantive. The stars! Just consider a few of the names in the TOC of this first issue of the new mag: Richard Rodriguez, Dave Eggers, Phillip Lopate, David Shields, Bill McKibben, Virginia Morell, the now-famous-though-less-so-when-this-mag-was-in-production Rebecca Skloot, and Carolyn Forché.
The issue kicks off with a multi-page chronology of “Great (and not so great) moments in creative nonfiction, 1993-2010,” which includes some obvious highs and lows (think Oprah) and some not obvious ones (AWP counts 822 degree-conferring creative writing programs in the US in 2009. Is that a high or a low?). The writing in this issue is quite spectacular and includes exemplary models (as befits a magazine that takes credit for founding a movement and evolving along with it) of the genre.
Immortality (as befits the magazine’s assertions about itself) is the announced “focus” of this issue. From Forché’s heartbreaking but never self-pitying story of her cancer, to Morell’s treatise on plants and animals that live forever, to the opinion/analysis by Richard Rodriguez on the demise of “The NewsHour” on PBS (which I, too, had long been lamenting), the work is strong, engaging, expertly crafted, deeply satisfying, and beautifully composed. There is an appealing balance of shorter opinion/analysis style pieces (like the Rodriguez commentary) and longer “essays.”
The journal closes with “afterWords” on “the art of the start” with 11 opening lines from a diverse set of nonfiction favorites (works by Truman Capote, Frank Conroy, Susan Orlean, Lucy Grealy, Mary Karr, you get the picture) exhibiting every element of the magazine’s new graphic style, boxed with headings that summarize their purpose as first lines (“Setting,” “Voice-Over,” “Warning”). “Warning” is the last, and it’s from William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways: “Beware thoughts that come in the night.” When Gutkind and his team dreamt up this new magazine, it was clearly day time.