- True Stories: An Interview with Lee Gutkind
Lee Gutkind is an apostle of “creative nonfiction.” Though he started out, like many writers, thinking he’d become a novelist, he found his métier writing nonfiction on topics ranging from motorcycling to health care. Inspired by the new journalism, he developed his own version of “immersion reportage,” which uses storytelling techniques more familiar in fiction, although it adheres to the rule that they be true stories. In 1993, he founded the magazine Creative Nonfiction. Its success has given credibility to the genre, providing a forum for new as well as established writers.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1945, Gutkind took a roundabout path to academe. After high school, he joined the Coast Guard, eventually returning to Pittsburgh, taking courses and hoping to write. His first effort was the novel God’s Helicopter (Slow Loris, 1983), although while finishing it he got a contract for and wrote Bike Fever (Avon, 1973) about his travels around the country on a motorcycle. Next, he recounted his travels with umpires in The Best Seat in Baseball, But You Have to Stand: The Game as Umpires See It (Dial, 1975; rpt. Southern Illinois UP, 1999). The People of Penn’s Woods West (U of Pittsburgh P, 1984) circled closer to home, drawing the lives of people in Western PA. Thereafter, he wrote a series of books on the medical world: Many Sleepless Nights: The World of Organ Transplantation (Norton, 1988); One Children’s Place: A Profile of Pediatric Medicine (Grove Weidenfeld, 1990); Stuck in Time: The Tragedy of Childhood Mental Illness (Holt, 1993); and An Unspoken Art: Profiles of Veterinary Life (Holt, 1997; rev. as The Veterinarian’s Touch: Profiles of Life among the Animals, Holt, 1998). His Almost Human: Making Robots Think (Norton, 2006) continues his coverage of science, and he has also offered parts of his own memoirs in Forever Fat: Essays by the Godfather (U of Nebraska P, 2003) and Truckin’ with Sam: A Father and Son, The Mick and The Dyl, Rockin’ and Rollin’, On the Road (State U of New York P, 2010). [End Page 349]
Since founding Creative Nonfiction, Gutkind has produced a fleet of books on the genre, including the texts Creative Nonfiction: How to Live It and Write It (Chicago Review P, 1996); The Art of Creative Nonfiction: Writing and Selling the Literature of Reality (Wiley, 1997); and Keep It Real: Everything You Need to Know about Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction (Norton, 2008); and over a dozen collections, among them Surviving Crisis: Twenty Prominent Authors Write about Events That Shaped Their Lives (Putnam, 1997); Connecting: Twenty Prominent Authors Write about the Relationships That Shaped Our Lives (Putnam, 1998); The Essayist at Work: Profiles of Creative Nonfiction Writers (Heinemann, 1998); Healing: Twenty Prominent Authors Write about Inspirational Moments of Achieving Health and Gaining Insight (Putnam, 2001); In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction (Norton, 2005); (Co-edited) Our Roots Are Deep with Passion: Creative Nonfiction Collects New Essays by Italian American Writers (Other Press, 2006); Hurricanes and Carnivals: Essays by Chicanos, Pochos, Pachucos, Mexicanos, and Expatriates (U of Arizona P, 2007); The Best Creative Nonfiction, vol. 1 (Norton, 2007); The Best Creative Nonfiction, vol. 2 (Norton, 2008); The Best Creative Nonfiction, vol. 3 (Norton, 2009); and Becoming a Doctor: From Student to Specialist, Doctor-Writers Share Their Experiences (Norton, 2010).
Gutkind taught creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh from the early 1970s to 2008. He is currently Distinguished Writer in Residence at the Consortium of Science Policy and Outcomes and Professor, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, Arizona State University, although he retains roots in Pittsburgh, with a house down the street from the offices of the Creative Nonfiction Foundation. This interview took place in the Creative Nonfiction offices on Sunday, October 24, 2010. It was conducted and edited by Jeffrey J. Williams, Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, and transcribed by Jennifer Beno, an MA student in the Literary and Cultural Studies Program at Carnegie Mellon. This interview continues a series that Williams began in 1993 while he edited the minnesota review.
I want to ask about your books...