Sunday, May 2, 2010

Nonfiction as Literature-ENG 330 Week 1

As a class we were asked to discuss what creative nonfiction is for a discussion board prompt-and everyone did the “Uhhhh…I think” insecure response deal because none of us could really define it. It’s sort of like defining the word “the”. We use it all the time, but I don’t think I could define it very easily. Upon reading ch.11 in On Writing Well (Nonfiction as Literature), I had a little more insight with the help of Zinsser’s account of the “new literature of nonfiction” which to him includes “all the writers who come bearing information and who present it with vigor, clarity, and humanity” (99). Turning nonfiction into a form of literature (which I usually associate mostly with fiction-such as Jane Eyre, etc.) would seem to be a difficult thing to do. However, when Zinsser cited Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, I was able to comprehend what he was referring to. Of course he listed a multitude of other authors that I had never heard of, but luckily I had taken a course on Nature Writers so I had been introduced to Carson’s work briefly before.

By taking an issue that concerns humans in a very real way and turning it into a piece of writing that is full of color and passion and lacking in snooze-ability, Carson was able to reach out to her audience and make an impact. Her use of terms such as “evil” and “sinister” in the following passage are not typical of what one would expect from a piece of nonfiction, but she
marries those terms with human action that is real and documented, and not made-up in some sci-fi story:

This pollution is for the most part irrecoverable; the chain of
evil it initiates not only in the world that must support life but in living
tissues is for the most part irreversible. In this now universal contamination
of the environment, chemicals are the sinister and little-recognized partners of
radiation in changing the very nature of the world—the very nature of its life.
(Carson par.2)
As a reader, I am drawn to her strong language; I want to know more about what she is referring to. Whether or not you agree with what Carson is saying (think the debate on global warming), you want to read on because it seems as though she makes a compelling argument. That should be the goal of the nonfiction writers…wanting their reader to want to read on, to listen to their argument (based on responsible research and reporting) and develop an intelligent opinion based upon tangible information.
No matter how the specifics are delivered, the sphere of nonfiction includes information that should be considered truthful to those who take it in, not misleading or misrepresented. I would speculate that most people do not enjoy being lectured at or feeling like they are reading an encyclopedia article when they want to take in information, so if an author can succeed in presenting the material in a creative and appealing manner, it is likely that the reader will not only better remember the information, but also appreciate it.
Works Cited
Carlson, Rachel. “Excerpts from Silent Spring.” 1962. PDF file on Web. 2 May 2010.
Zinsser, William. On Writing Well. New York: Collins, 2006. Print.

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