The Art of Friction: Where (Non) Fictions Come Together

The Art of Friction: Where (Non) Fictions Come Together

The Art of Friction: Where (Non) Fictions Come Together

The Art of Friction: Where (Non) Fictions Come Together


"We live in an Enquirer, reality television-addled world, a world in which most college students receive their news from the Daily Show and discourse via text message," assert Charles Blackstone and Jill Talbot. "Recently, two nonfiction writers have been criticized for falsifying memoirs. Oprah excoriated James Frey on her show; Nasdijj was impugned by Sherman Alexie in Time. Is our next trend in literature to lock down such boundaries among the literati? Or should we address the fictionalizing of nonfiction, the truth of fiction?" The Art of Friction surveys the borderlands where fiction and nonfiction intersect, commingle, and challenge genre lines. It anthologizes nineteen creative works by contemporary, award-winning writers including Junot Déaz, Jonathan Safran Foer, Thomas Beller, Bernard Cooper, Wendy McClure, and Terry Tempest Williams, who also provide companion pieces in which they comment on their work. These selections, which place short stories and personal essays (and hybrids of the two) side by side, allow readers to examine the similarities and differences between the genres, as well as explore the trends in genre overlap. Functioning as both a reader and a discussion of the craft of writing, The Art of Friction is a timely, essential book for all writers and readers who seek the truthfulness of lived experience through (non)fictions.


While I was teaching an advanced creative nonfiction course one recent spring, Sherman Alexie blasted Nasdijj in Time for stealing his story. As several major newspapers and journals got in the line of shame-on-you-ers, my students and I were discussing The Blood Runs Like a River through My Dreams. Nasdijj’s memoir was vilified for its falsified Navajo persona created by author Tim Barrus. Blurb on cover: “An authentic, important book … unfailingly honest and very nearly perfect.” Oops. I let my students get through the entirety of the memoir before I told them the truth, actually offered them a link to Alexie’s article, along with one from the Navajo Times, through the class blog and asked for comments. Posts and comments came in quickly, and most were negative: all shock and scorn. However, many came to the writer’s defense. “I don’t care if he’s a liar; we all are,” wrote one young man. Of course, I used the articles as a critical exercise in order to foment debate and various critical responses about the genre they were writing, exemplified by the work they had just read. I assured them, and perhaps myself, that I assigned the memoir for the writing, and I’ll stand by my claim that it’s still writing worth reading, though the reading experience will no doubt now be completely different, each word shadowed by scandal. I was surprised one day to find a posting from “Nasdijj” himself on the class blog, his response to a discussion about persona, following the students’ discovery that Tim Barrus had, at one time, been an advice columnist for Genesis, a gay male pornography publication. Commenting on this discussion, I had posted the following question:

Question: So if Nasdijj writes as a Navajo when he’s not, why are some
jumping to the conclusion that he’s gay? Just a question. Is Nasdijj/Tim
Barrus/writer of a 1,000 personas (when does persona cross a line?) just
writing a litany of the most lucrative personas?

Nasdijj commented:

Good question re: SEXUALITY. For years, I wrote/ghosted an advice

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