Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir

By Sue William Silverman | Go to book overview

Appendix One
The Meandering River
An Overview of the Subgenres
of Creative Nonfiction

The genre of creative nonfiction is a long river with many moods and currents. And even though it traverses waterscapes as diverse as the Mississippi, the Amazon, and the Nile, there are seven basic forms—or ports of call, if you will—which we might explore. At the head of the river lie the categories of biography and autobiography. From here, we flow on to immersion writing (or other forms of New Journalism) in which the author immerses him- or herself in an experience, before traveling on to memoir, to personal essay (including nature and travel writing), to the meditative essay, finally spilling into the lyric essay. In brief, then, the river flows from a relatively exterior focus to an intensely interior one, from a focus on actions and events to one on ideas and emotions. While we begin with a fairly straightforward narrative, we end with one that’s diminished or fractured. Yet because this river is a continuum, we’ll also find that the ports of call are sometimes so close together that it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the other starts. Let’s begin the journey.


Port of Call 1: Biography

A case could be made that biography and autobiography shouldn’t be included in the genre of creative nonfiction; rather, that they are (or should be) strictly nonfiction, in the same tributary as academic and scholarly writing or journalism. However, given the inevitable subjectivity of the author toward his or her subject, as well as the fact that

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