The Genre

What is Creative Nonfiction?

If you’re new at this, you might be wondering.

The best definition we’ve heard so far for “creative nonfiction” comes from editor and writer Lee Gutkind: the word “creative” in “Creative Nonfiction” “refers simply to the use of literary craft in presenting nonfiction—that is, factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid manner.” Instead of making things up, a creative nonfiction writer simply makes ideas, people, events, and places that already exist more compelling through the use of imagery, scene, form, dialogue, setting, characterization, plot, and detail.

Some people object to the term “creative nonfiction” and prefer the term “literary nonfiction,” or prefer to simply refer to various kinds of writing by their subgenre: narrative journalism, lyric essay, personal essay, nature writing, etc.

Others object to the emphasis the above description places on narrative and scene, because it forces nonfiction to read like fiction and provides little space for ruminations, exposition, and summary. We can see that too. One of our favorite books right now is Phillip Lopate’s To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction, wherein he examines contemporary nonfiction’s focus on narrative.

We think the tent is big enough for everyone. Literary/creative nonfiction is a huge genre whose variety is almost incomprehensible, ranging from narrative to ruminative, traditional to experimental, research-based to extremely personal (or a combination of the two), from crime writing to lyric essay to graphic texts to prose poems to travel writing to food writing. We love it all.

What we’re most interested in, though, at this journal, is creative nonfiction that has an element of research in it. We believe that should actually cover many varieties of creative nonfiction. A very personal essay can use research to recreate scenes or verify facts. An essay on the treatment of chronic pain might, in fact, be very personal. Research includes observation, interview, immersion, as well as reading. Take a look at our Submission Guidelines for further discussion.

If all this sounds like what you read, click on an issue.

Keep an eye on our blog and news pages for other thoughts on the state of the genre, guest posts, and reflections on craft.