Tuesday, July 8, 2014

To Show and To Tell, by Phillip Lopate

Its certainly not a secret that in a world without children (and of course I am not wishing for such a place) and other middle-aged responsibilities, I would go back to school for an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Since that may remain in the domain of dreams unrequited, I read a good deal about the craft of literary/creative nonfiction.  Not only to I love the genre, but I also find my own personal education in creative nonfiction professionally invaluable. For instance, understanding the nature of personal narratives has help me work on two edited volumes which privileged the narratives and voices of undocumented and detained immigrants.

I frequently find books which focus on craft extremely helpful to my scholarly writing. After all, regardless of our discipline, regardless of which discourse community to who we speak, we all are ultimately trying to tell "true stories."

I want to recommend a book to you that I have been reading the last few days, "To Show and to Tell" by Phillip Lopate. It is a fantastic book, and itself represents the best the genre has to offer. Throughout, the author carefully weaves vivid scenes with profound insights, insight that at times are conflicting, contradictory, puzzling, and mostly, powerfully and tragically human. 

Is that not what the best academic writing seeks to do?   We want to speak about truths; not easy, true or false, paint by the numbers truths, but truths with multiple textures, paradox, and nuances. We frequently chide our students (or at least I do)  for reducing complex human problems to single variable solutions.

Scenes and knowledge, or scenes and insights, considerations, and random, idiosyncratic connections that are all our own; these are our special contributions.

Extend this to social science research; scenes are our data, and the ruminations of the personal essayist are our theoretically, yet personally driven analysis.  Keep this metaphor in mind when next work on findings and implications sections of your articles.

And make sure to check out this book, or some of the other creative nonfiction books I am going to be providing insights from- this is where my reading is taking me.  It is healthy to take a giant step off the narrow path of our own disciplines.

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