The spirit of Montaigne is invoked more than once in these 20 essays on the thorny question of the nature of truth in nonfiction. Lazar writes, "Nonfiction blends fact and artifice in an attempt to arrive at truth, or truths. This frequently includes great leaps of the imagination." In personal essays, diary excerpts, prose poems and parts of film scripts, distinguished writers grapple with the ethical dilemmas posed by memoirs, autobiographical essays and "creative" nonfiction. Phyllis Rose and Nancy K. Miller raise issues of privacy: the impossibility of telling one's life story without involving others. Kathryn Harrison references Magritte's account of his mother's suicide, "true" only in the way he imagined it, and her own conviction that she was responsible for her mother's disappearance. Confessing her anguish, Vivian Gornick revisits the minor literary scandal raised when she admitted conflating some incidents in her memoir, Fierce Attachments. She persuasively maintains that memoirs "belong to the category of literature, not of journalism." While not all the essays are equally trenchant, overall they provide some valuable insights-but no conclusive ethical definitions-about what has become a controversial genre. 18 photos (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Truth in Nonfiction: Essaysby David Lazar
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Even before the controversy that surrounded the publication of A Million Little Pieces, the question of truth has been at the heart of memoir. From Elie Wiesel to Benjamin Wilkomirski to David Sedaris, the veracity of writers’ claims has been suspect. In this fascinating and timely collection of essays, leading writers meditate on the subject of truth in literary nonfiction. As David Lazar writes in his introduction, “How do we verify? Do we care to? (Do we dare to eat the apple of knowledge and say it’s true? Or is it a peach?) Do we choose to? Is it a subcategory of faith? How do you respond when someone says, ‘This is really true’? Why do they choose to say it then?”
The past and the truth are slippery things, and the art of nonfiction writing requires the writer to shape as well as explore. In personal essays, meditations on the nature of memory, considerations of the genres of memoir, prose poetry, essay, fiction, and film, the contributors to this provocative collection attempt to find answers to the question of what truth in nonfiction means.
Contributors: John D’Agata, Mark Doty, Su Friedrich, Joanna Frueh, Ray González, Vivian Gornick, Barbara Hammer, Kathryn Harrison, Marianne Hirsch, Wayne Koestenbaum, Leonard Kriegel, David Lazar, Alphonso Lingis, Paul Lisicky, Nancy Mairs, Nancy K. Miller, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Phyllis Rose, Oliver Sacks, David Shields, and Leo Spitzer
The work of the memoirist is fundamentally different from that of the biographer, newspaper writer, or even literary journalist. That difference has something to do with the way memoirists shape reality to create literary art-but what happens to the truth during that process? In this varied essay collection, leading writers like Vivian Gornick, Kathryn Harrison, and Oliver Sacks probe this question and consequently explore the nature of memory, the obligations imposed by nonfiction genres, and what truth means to nonfiction. More meditation than academic study, this is essentially a work written by writers for writers. Disappointingly, the essayists too often blame "inexperienced" readers for misunderstanding that memoirs are works of literature, not journalism; the subject would be far better served were they to question why memoirs and autobiography are often read in the same way. A fascinating collection recommended for academic libraries with robust writing programs. There may be interest owing to the recent controversies over Margaret B. Jones's and Misha Defonseca respective memoirs.
Leigh Anne Palmer
“At last, as engrossing and intellectually sophisticated and varied a discussion of these sticky topical issues as one could ever hope to find. What makes the book even better is that so many of these pieces are stunning essays in their own right.”—Phillip Lopate, author, Getting Personal: Selected Writings
“The issue of truth in nonfiction is a heated topic. . . . This collection is an absolutely necessary addition to the subject—and it’s absolutely necessary right now, given the amount of attention our culture pays to the subject with all those endless reviews on imposters, Oprah, and so forth.”—Lia Purpura, author, On Looking: Essays
Meet the Author
David Lazar is the director of the nonfiction writing program at Columbia College Chicago, a professor in the Department of English, and the editor of Hotel Amerika. He is the author of The Body of Brooklyn (Iowa, 2003), Michael Powell: Interviews, Conversations with M. F. K. Fisher, and a book of prose poems, Powder Town. Four of his essays have been named Notable Essays of the Year by Best American Essays.
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