Creative Nonfiction Equals Curiosity Plus Truth, Says OU Prof

Dateline
Updated Thu, Dec 26, 2013 2:04 pm
Dinty Moore

Curiosity is essential for an artist, for a writer, says Professor Dinty W. Moore, whose book The Accidental Buddhist was the result of his curiosity about Buddhism in America.

Moore teaches "Creative Nonfiction" at Ohio University. The "creative" part of that equation involves not just curiosity, but also discovery.

The "nonfiction" part grounds the writer within the parameters of facts.

Moore recently added to the conversation about the definition of creative nonfiction with the Fourth River’s Lori Barrett. She interviewed him on where he would "draw the line between an embellished fact and an actual untruth."

"My definition of creative nonfiction is that the writer captures the truth as best she can, within the limits of memory and subjectivity," he said. "If you aren’t sure of something, tell the reader. If you doubt your memory, yet that memory persists, discuss your doubt with the reader. I don’t think an honest nonfiction writer can ever knowingly embellish a fact or add an untruth to make the story better—that’s what fiction writers do, or at least those fiction writers who write from an autobiographical place. Sophisticated readers understand that the honest writer of memoir and nonfiction is merely saying: 'I know memory is flawed, but I’ve done my very best here to capture the truth.'"

Moore answered questions about how form, function and motivation come together in creative nonfiction.

"A student can learn to write sentences and form scenes, but that curiosity, that wonderment at the world and all that is there to be discovered—that’s something an artist either has or does not. And it is crucial.

"The best motive for writing is exploration, to look at a life [your own, if it is memoir] and try to make sense of the world and the human experience, so that both the reader and writer make discoveries along the way. I suppose the intimacy is in sharing that journey of discovery."

Brevity Is Long on Readership, Big on Creative Nonfiction

Moore started Brevity—a journal of concise literary nonfiction in 1997 with six readers. Now his online magazine attracts about 40,000 readers per issue.

He writes in Essay Daily about how important that word "concise" is for Brevity: "What are we looking for? I’ve adjusted my standard answer a few times over the years, as brilliant writers show me how much can be done in 750 words or fewer, but here is what hasn’t changed—we are looking for absolutely crisp prose and tight sentences, and a strong sense of voice.  I want to feel the author’s presence, know the author’s quirks and idiosyncrasies, as well as her experience or memory."

Moore, professor of English and Director of Creative Writing in the Ohio University College of Arts & Sciences, is the author of the memoir Between Panic & Desire, winner of the 2009 Grub Street Book Award for Nonfiction, and numerous other books, essays and stories.

The Creative Writing Program offers students a range of beginning, intermediate, and advanced workshops in poetry, fiction and nonfiction.

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