Sunday, May 24, 2009

We Heart Ira Glass

In MFA programs, creative nonfiction is often linked with memoir. I find this irritating. Nothing against memoirs, there are many I love, but I am not writing memoir and memoir is not my primary NF interest. There was also this NYT bestselling phase of the trauma memoir, which seems to have passed, but the lingering stink that memoir = my crappy childhood remains.  Again, not that crappy childhood memoirs can't be fantastic. But all memoirs are not about people's horrible trauma (think: David Sedaris). And again, none of this has anything to do with what I'm writing. 

One of my NF profs, after a few, would bemoan his undergraduate nonfiction class.

"Oh god," he would moan, one hand clutching a glass of wine and the other his head, "I can't read anymore about the bulimia."

I understand this impulse to want to make sense of painful experiences. But what I want to say to young writers and to the fiction profs who equate NF with memoir is "think less My Father Raped Me and more This American Life."

One great quality about Ira Glass is that he is all about sharing information. He doesn't obfuscate what he's looking for in a great story. He's not one of those pontiffs who claims you can't explain "Art." Glass is unafraid to outline what he wants in great, specific detail. And I have learned as much from him as anyone. If you listen to Ira Glass and then go back to your favorite writers you will learn muchly. 

A story is a series of anecdotes building to a point. Along the way questions are raised and answered. These answers should surprise us. 

Easy, right? 


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