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  • Editor's Notes
  • Michael Steinberg

Among the memoirs that don't succeed [as literature] are those in which their authors mistake their experience for a story rather than search out the story in their experience

Memoirist and critic Laurie Stone

As editors, we're often asked what the difference is between "creative nonfiction" and simply "nonfiction." One distinction is that writers of creative or literary nonfiction aren't necessarily bound or constrained by a particular subject matter or topic. Nor do they feel obligated to reproduce a literal version of a personal experience.

In fact, the subjects and experiences we write about can often serve as catalysts for further thought and exploration. Looked at another way, they form the raw materials that nonfiction writers ultimately shape into literary texts. And that transformation is the chief difference between crafting a literary piece and one that explains and carefully documents a subject, or offers, however skillfully, a faithful rendition of a story's external events.

We believe that a savvy and skilled piece of creative nonfiction is one that digs beneath the surface of its perceived subject or experience and gives us the "inner story." That is, the story of the writer's thinking—his/her reflections, associations, feelings, memories, speculations, confusions, etc.

Consequently, when we're reading manuscripts, we're always hoping to encounter a fully present narrator and a curious, idiosyncratic mind and imagination in the act of thinking things out on the page.

The personal essays and memoirs in this issue embody those qualities, in that each is a singular, transparent example of an inquisitive mind and imagination seeking to understand and interpret the significance of his/her experience. [End Page vii]

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In part 1, "Essays and Memoirs," Steven Church writes about how searching for a drowning boy triggers an unbidden meditation on death and mortality. Seth Sawyers's musing on his daily routine as an office worker prompts a series of speculations about the disparity between what we do and who we are.While walking beside a contaminated river, Tom Montgomery-Fate vacillates between pessimism and the hope of finding "the wild in the recovery of the ravaged." On the surface, Dana Salvador's memoir seems to be about her mother's sufferings after her father leaves the family. But the emotional heart of the piece is in the author's disclosure of her still unresolved desire to have a relationship with him.

Other examples of writers who delve beneath their subjects' surfaces include Stephanie Cassatly's "Call of the Sirens," which recounts how listening to a talk in church about forgiveness triggers an exploration of her long-buried past, which in turn leads her on a quest to find and ultimately forgive the man who killed her mother. And Rachel Hiller Pratt, Lisa Norris, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Ann Copeland, Susan Marsh, Carol Paik, and Jo Scott-Coe write about such diverse subjects and experiences as delivering a baby, meeting a man on the Internet, attempting to track down a predator who is killing chickens on a mother's farm, learning to improvise on the piano, seeking refuge in a stand of aspens, playing youth softball, and being a high-school English teacher. In these narratives, the authors' experiences and subjects become catalysts for a series of reflections on matters of identity and hope, a struggle to overcome lifelong doubts and fears, an inner journey to find peace within oneself, a depiction of a childhood sport that leads to some important life lessons, and an unflinching attempt to confront a chain of prejudices, iniquities, and injustices that ultimately leads the writer to quit her teaching job.

In addition to these 12 essays and memoirs, Robert Root interviews graphic novelist and memoir writer Marjane Satrapi. Their candid and thought-provoking discussion about the similarities and differences between the graphic memoir and the traditional text memoir pushes at some controversial genre boundaries.

And finally, before (or after) you read photographer Greg Jahn's descriptive essay about his cover photo "Dancing Rocks Study #1," you might want to know that the very same Greg Jahn also appears in Lisa Norris's essay, "Idaho Yahoo." [End Page viii]

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On a much sadder...


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