Hope, Connection, and Joy in Creative Nonfiction Magazine
For a magazine that focuses solely on one genre, Creative Nonfiction Issue 62 is full of poetic language and memories more surreal than fiction. But it is the depth and quality of writing in each and every piece in this issue that just may sway any reader into subscribing.
Rather than the paperback size and shape of many literary magazines, Creative Nonfiction is a slim publication similar to most trade magazines, and is accompanied by two separately bound books (think One Story in size and simplicity). These are actually issues of the journal's new monthly magazine, True Story. The graphics on the interior pages are bold geometric line drawings by Lauren Braun, and yet, on the whole they are subdued enough to keep the attention on the writing.
The polished, straightforward graphics underscore the mission of Creative Nonfiction, which is printed at the top of the front cover: True stories, well told. Beneath the title is the theme for Issue 62: Joy. This magazine is nothing if not precise, exactly where it counts.
If you’re skeptical about reading nonfiction because you think this genre focuses only on heartache and illness, take heart. Editor, Lee Gutkind, remarks that an issue focused on joy was “an interesting challenge” but one that proved “finding joy [was possible] in the least likely of circumstances.” If not joy, hope could just as easily characterize Issue 62 as a whole.
And if there is one piece in this issue that embodies hope, it is the Best Essay Prize Winner, Kim Kankiewicz, for “Rumors of Lost Stars.” In this essay on stars, sight and loss of sight, Kankiewicz strings together phrases such as “my eyes are fragile planets” and “how do I reconcile the vastness of the universe with the tightness of my chest?” This piece is poetic and compact, and interspersed with slivers of myths on the birth of stars and the shape of the cosmos. The only fault of this piece that I found is that it ended.
Far from Kankiewicz’s essay in tone, but no less full of heart, is “The Gentleman’s Guide to Arousal-Free Slow Dancing” by Brendan O’Meara. Perhaps the most humorous piece in Issue 62, O’Meara remembers the days and fears leading up to his eighth-grade dance. This piece will have you laughing again and again as O’Meara remembers his friend’s pre-dance advice (“You ever look in the mirror and think, ‘Why wouldn’t anyone want to go out with me?’”) and when his mother, by buying him a beige shirt and beige slacks, unknowingly “dressed [him] up like a walking penis.”
Though these two pieces alone show how well-rounded Issue 62 is, this review could not be complete without mentioning “Juliet, Juliet” by Joy Pope or “How to Survive an Atomic Bomb” by Edward McPherson, both of which are the two, separately bound stories. Pope clings desperately to reality as her sleeping pill-induced daydreams take hold while McPherson parallels the days that preceded the dropping of the Atomic Bomb and the years that follow. Both stories pull and tug the reader through a host of images and emotions, Pope through remarkably detailed daydreams and McPherson through the slices of humor, which he reports but does not invent. There is no need to invent for McPherson. Even as a key bomb builder recalled, “There is blood on our hands,” even though Eisenhower remarked openly that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was “completely unnecessary,” one scientist recalled that his director calmed their fears of a potential spy craft looming overhead when he asked “whether [they] would stop trying to shoot down Venus.”
Similarly, Melanie Brooks need not invent or reshape the words of poet and memoirist, Mark Doty, in “Shaping the Story is One of the Things That Will Keep You Alive.” Though this essay recounts Doty’s particular and personal experience of writing a memoir after loosing his partner, Wally Roberts, to AIDS in 1994, much of his emotions are universal. And not just about the isolation of pain. He speaks poignantly about the isolation of writing: Brooks recounts that for Doty, “the nature of [nonfiction] is translating our own perceptions into language. ‘Other people’s subjectivity is not a part of it.’”
What need is there to shape words like that? Perhaps more than joy or even hope, the theme that categorizes Issue 62 of Creative Nonfiction is connection. Because, as Doty remarks in Brooks’ essay, when people read his memoir (and were moved by it), “it was heaven in a way, because…it’s an antidote to isolation.”
For a slim volume, Issue 62 includes so many voices worth reading that I don’t mention, due to space. There are more than 20 voices on the back page alone. These “Tiny Truths” are delightful and heartbreaking, and will make you wish they weren’t so tiny. There is also a piece in Issue 62 called “Writers at Work,” which offers advice on finding the joys of writing from Brian Doyle, Brenda Miller, David Quammen and Abigail Thomas.
A few notes on submissions: Though most of the writers in Issue 62 share a host of respectable publishing credits, it also includes one writer who was previously unpublished (Joy Pope, of “Juliet, Juliet”). Writers interested in submitting should check the website for information on upcoming themes, contests, deadlines and even a list of themes from previous issues.