- Interview with Michael Steinberg
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In the beginning, the term "the fourth genre" arose as a way of insinuating creative nonfiction into the spectrum of literary writing. Introduction to literature courses routinely focused on poetry, fiction, and drama, as did the anthologies used in them; creative writing programs centered on poetry, fiction, and, less frequently, drama, and at least one of the textbooks used for those courses identified literature as having only three genres. The term "fourth genre" then was coined to imply that literature included more than three genres, though creative nonfiction itself was more often taught in composition/rhetoric and journalism, and first used to title The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers of/on Creative Nonfiction, an anthology that gathered essays, memoirs, literary journalism, and personal cultural criticism as well as articles about the craft of creative nonfiction. The anthology grew out of material that Michael Steinberg and I were using in courses he taught at Michigan State University and Western Michigan University, and I taught at Central Michigan University. While that volume was passing slowly through the publishing process, Mike had the opportunity to become the founding editor of a new journal devoted entirely to nonfiction, which he titled Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction. At the time, the only literary journal devoted entirely to the genre was the pioneering Creative Nonfiction, launched in 1993. Fourth Genre's first issue was published in spring 1999; the third nonfiction journal, River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative, began in fall 1999, and awareness of the genre expanded quickly in the literary community.
In the last two or three decades, an increasing number of creative writing programs have added creative nonfiction or literary nonfiction to their [End Page 147] offerings, and several programs are either devoted entirely to that single genre or give it equal footing with one or two other genres. Literary journals, which in the past only published essays about literature—critical articles on fiction or poetry—now frequently publish essays as literature: sharing issues with work in other genres. Publishing houses have been releasing an increasing number of creative nonfiction works and launching creative nonfiction series, and noteworthy awards and prizes for nonfiction have been established. Some significant portion of the credit for the legitimization of literary nonfiction must be given to the primary journals devoted to them, a point of particular pride for Mike Steinberg. In the past ten years, essays first published in Fourth Genre have won a number of Pushcart Prizes and been reprinted in anthologies or cited in annual collections of the best American nonfiction writing. The journal was recognized with an Utne Reader Writing Excellence Award and Travel Writers of America Society Award.
As an essayist and a memoirist himself, Steinberg's work has been widely published and recognized with a variety of awards. His memoir "Trading Off" won the 1994 Missouri Review Editor's Prize, and he also won the Harness Racing Writers of America's Award for feature writing. His first book-length work of creative nonfiction, Still Pitching, won the 2004 ForeWord Magazine Award for Small/Independent Press Memoir of the Year. In addition to The Fourth Genre, now in its fifth edition, he coedited Those Who Do, Can: Teachers Writing, Writers Teaching—A Sourcebook; edited Peninsula: Essays and Memoirs from Michigan; and coauthored a play, I'm Almost Famous, and a textbook, The Writer's Way: A Process to Product Approach to Writing. A frequent presenter on nonfiction at national conferences, and a visiting writer at numerous colleges and writing programs as far flung as the Kachemak Bay Writers Conference in Alaska and the Prague Summer Program in the Czech Republic, he is a professor emeritus at Michigan State University and currently writer-in-residence at the Solstice Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College. When he's not traveling, he divides his time between his home in Lansing, Michigan, and his cottage on the Leelanau Peninsula overlooking Grand Traverse Bay.
With the publication of Fourth Genre 11.1 in spring 2009, Mike stepped down from active editing of the journal. This interview was conducted by...