What are the challenges and rewards of composing creative nonfiction? How does it compare to other genres you've used?
I know an essay is going somewhere good when I start to make discoveries about my thoughts, my relationships, and my place in the world. But interrogating yourself and your interior space can be intimidating, and sometimes painful. So, the risks and rewards of creative nonfiction are often one and the same for me: honest introspection can be both brutal and revelatory.
Even when I’ve worked in poetry (frequently) and fiction (a handful of times), I’ve usually still worked exclusively from real-life experience. (What can I say? I’m an essayist at heart!) The biggest difference for me when working across genres is that I prioritize narrative when composing fiction, and I prioritize image when writing poetry. In creative nonfiction, I believe that introspection and reflection are king; for me, thinking on the page is where the heart of an essay will be found.
Which writer or body of work has informed your writing and/or inspired you?
Philip Lopate, Scott Russell Sanders, EB White, Ann Fadiman, Amy Leach. Too many to name. For this essay, I tried to channel some of the moves that Sanders makes in his beautiful, heart-wrenching essay “Under the Influence.” (If you haven’t read it, do.) Sanders chooses to tell us how the story ends at the very beginning—his father dies of alcoholism—which I believe de-emphasizes the suspense of the story and instead focuses the reader’s attention on why the story matters. And by thinking through the implications of his father’s alcoholism on the page, Sanders goes beyond the events of the story he’s telling. It’s more than narrative—though the narrative is important too. He implicates himself in ways that are honest and difficult, thinking through not only the story of his childhood, but also the story of his current self—his personality and habits and failures. This is the kind of self-interrogation I hope to achieve whenever I write.