Creative Nonfiction Magazine – Issue 43 – Fall/Winter 2011
image via creativenonfiction.org
On the whole, I like what editor Lee Gutkind does with this magazine. It’s a good forum for beginning nonfiction writers as well as the more experienced, and Gutkind’s staff selects well.
With this issue, however, an issue devoted largely to anger, hate, and revenge, I found myself skimming. Most of these well-written, inventive essays have to do with personal anger and hate, particularly ire at the most obvious objects: a divorced mate, a politician of an opposite persuasion, and the like. This sort of self-absorptive writing has been a broadly running theme in memoirs and other forms on nonfiction for at least a decade, and have rightly begun to be decried in recent years.
I could excuse it here as an editor floundering for theme had not Gutkind himself decided to grind an axe in his lead column, an axe the bared personal affront at an action taken by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) that is essentially one more shot fired in an ongoing tug of war between the academic perspective on creative writing and the academically-related business end of the publishing industry.
Gutkind’s sniping here serves no purpose other than to make this literary divide more hostile. And this is essentially the problem I have with the essays published here. You can hate your ex-spouse, but does that resolve anything in your personal life? You can remain angry at Dick Cheney, but does that help create an environment for national political healing?
The closest to a constructive essay regarding anger and hate here is one by Chester F. Philips entitled, “Heroes and Consequences: On Masculinity and Redemptive Violence in American Culture.” Philips ends his essay depicting a poignant scene from the Bosnian war – preceded by this:
“In turning from vengeance to care, I could connect with the real source of my hurt…”
We live in a time of challenging problems worldwide, and many among us wish to take various advantages from this state by causing more confusion and division. Our indulging in anger and hate, even in the face of such leveraging and fear-mongering, only serves to throw another log on that fire. We have to be big enough to see beyond our personal needs, preferences, and ideologies, our mistakes and limitations, to appreciate the situations of those whose life perspective is different from ours.
Creative writing can have a hand in oiling such troubled waters. It’s true that creative writing is best when it simply asks the right questions, not when it attempts to provide answers. We readers have to be able to arrive at a composite answer to such questions from different and sometimes opposing viewpoints. But promoting essays what wallow in one’s own emotional responses without looking for that broader perspective only inflame, not heal.