Issue #25, 2004

In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction

Creative nonfiction is no oxymoron. Shorthand for an exciting genre that encompasses the hard-hitting honesty of journalism and the dramatic techniques that make fiction so compelling, creative nonfiction is just that: gripping stories that just happen to be true. As Brian Doyle defines it in this volume, creative nonfiction is "true stories about people and the world... small true odd interesting unusual voice-laden funny poignant detailed musical sweet sad stories." Good, old-fashioned reporting plus insight, story, reflection... and wisdom. That's creative nonfiction.

In Fact offers much more than twenty-five of these stories: it offers twenty-five of the best. Culled from the 300 pieces published in the journal Creative Nonfiction over the past ten years, themselves chosen from over 10,000 manuscripts, the stories reprinted in In Fact showcase the magnificent possibilities of this emergent genre in pieces by the famous, and those surely destined to be so. Not only that, each author has included a reflection on the process of composing the particular piece included valuable advice for those hoping to find their own writing voice. Annie Dillard's sassy introduction, "Notes for Young Writers," sets the tone for the whole volume. Over and over again, she and the other contributors stress the importance of reading good work, as well as writing it, and the aspiring poet, novelist, journalist, essayist, creative nonfiction writer—or simply curious reader who relishes good writing—could do no better than to begin with In Fact.

The questions probed here are questions that touch us all: identity, race, love, memory, truth. Only through this genre can you get so close to what it feels like to be a feminist, 115-pound woman riding a 600-pound motorcycle through Mormon country to rediscover her family and herself, as Jana Richman reveals to us in "Why I Ride." Richard Rodriguez questions the nature of race and authorial voice. The battered face of 14-year-old Emmett Till, murdered in 1955 for talking slang to a white woman, haunts more than one writer in this volume. Francine Prose explores the immutability—and permeability—of culture, and Diane Ackerman looks at the foundations of language itself.

Part writing-manual, part prose anthology, In Fact is not a book simply to be read, but to be re-read, thumbed over, annotated, dog-eared and lent to friends and family or jealously guarded on one's bookshelf, right above the writing desk.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Notes for Young Writers Annie Dillard
The Creative Nonfiction Police? Lee Gutkind ... read more
Three Spheres Lauren Slater
Looking at Emmett Till John Edgar Wideman
Shunned Meredith Hall ... read more
An Album Quilt John McPhee
Dinner at Uncle Boris's Charles Simic
What is it We Really Harvestin' Here? Ntozake Shange
The Brown Study Richard Rodriguez
Killing Wolves Sherry Simpson ... read more
Being Brians Brian Doyle
Language at Play Diane Ackerman
Finders Keepers: The Story of Joey Coyle Mark Bowden
Notes from a Difficult Case Ruthann Robson
Adventures in Celestial Navigation Philip Gerard
Leaving Babylon: A Walk Through the Jewish Divorce Ceremony Judyth Har-Even
Gray Area: Thinking With a Damaged Brain Floyd Skloot
Joe Stopped By Andrei Codrescu
In the Woods Leslie Rubinkowski
Sa'm Pèdi Madison Smartt Bell
Going Native Francine Prose
Mixed-Blood Stew Jewell Parker Rhodes
Why I Ride Jana Richman
Delivering Lily Phillip Lopate


Diane Ackerman

Diane Ackerman is the author of 20 works of poetry and nonfiction, including, most recently, "An Alchemy of Mind" and "Origami Bridges:... read more

Madison Smartt Bell

Madison Smartt Bell is director of the Kratz Center for Creative Writing at Goucher College. Master of the Crossroads, the second novel in... read more

Mark Bowden

Mark Bowden is the author of "Bringing the Heat" (Knopf, 1994) and "Doctor Dealer" (Warner, 1987). He is a longtime staff writer at The... read more

Gerald N. Callahan

Gerald N. Callahan is an immunologist in the Department of Pathology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. His first book, River... read more

Andrei Codrescu

Andrei Codrescu immigrated to the United States in 1966 from Romania, where he was born in 1946. He is a poet, novelist, essayist,... read more

Annie Dillard

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Brian Doyle

Brian Doyle was the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland in Oregon and the author of many books of essays and fiction... read more

Judyth Har-Even

Judyth Har-Even has written personal essays for the Jerusalem Post, Israel's largest English-language daily, since 1984. Her essays and... read more

Philip Gerard

Philip Gerard holds an MFA from the University of Arizona. He is the author of three novels and four books of creative nonfiction,... read more

Lee Gutkind

Lee Gutkind, recognized by Vanity Fair as “the Godfather behind creative nonfiction,” is the founder and editor of Creative... read more

Meredith Hall

Meredith Hall's memoir, Without a Map, was recently published by Beacon Press in 2007. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The... read more

Phillip Lopate

Phillip Lopate's nonfiction books include essay collections (Bachelorhood, Against Joie de Vivre, Portrait of My Body); film criticism... read more

John McPhee

For more information please visit, read more

Francine Prose

Francine Prose's highly acclaimed works of fiction include Blue Angel, Bigfoot Dreams, Household Saints, Hunters and Gatherers,... read more

Jewell Parker Rhodes

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of three novels, Voodoo Dreams, Magic City, and Douglass' Women, and of The African American Guide... read more

Jana Richman

Jana Richman's essays and articles have appeared in numerous magazines and journals. She is working on a book, slated for publication by... read more

Ruthann Robson

Ruthann Robson, a professor of law and University Distinguished Professor at City University of New York, writes legal scholarship and... read more

Richard Rodriguez

Richard Rodriguez is the author of Hunger of Memory, Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father and Brown: The Last Discovery... read more

Leslie Rubinkowski

Leslie Rubinkowski teaches writing at West Virginia University and at Goucher College. She is the author of the book Impersonating Elvis. read more

Ntozake Shange

Ntozake Shange, an award-winning playwright, novelist and poet, is the author of "Liliane", "Sassafras, Cypress, Indigo" and "for colored... read more

Floyd Skloot

Floyd Skloot's memoir, In the Shadow of Memory (Nebraska, 2003), won the PEN Center USA Literary Award. The sequel, A World of Light, will... read more

Lauren Slater

Lauren Slater is a psychologist and writer. Her books include Welcome to My Country, Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir, and ... read more

Charles Simic

Charles Simic is professor emeritus of English at the University of New Hampshire. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1990 and was the... read more

Sherry Simpson

Sherry Simpson is a Fairbanks writer. Her most recent book is titled Dominion of Bears: Living with Wildlife in Alaska. For more... read more

John Edgar Wideman

John Edgar Wideman's life is as dramatic as any of his widely acclaimed Faulknerian novels. Born in Pittsburgh to a working-class family,... read more

Terry Tempest Williams

Terry Tempest Williams, author, naturalist and environmental activist, is perhaps best known for writing "Refuge: An Unnatural History of... read more