Venerable nonfiction magazine proves it’s still in the game.
Review of Creative Nonfiction, Issue 72, by Bria Peterson.
Creative Nonfiction magazine is “true stories, well told.” Each issue works to prove that interesting narratives can make any subject meaningful through the adaptive essence of narrative nonfiction. In issue 72, titled “Games: The Power of Play,” they achieve this goal through long and short-form essays along with columns that examine the craft, style, and trends of writing true stories.
The cover of this issue does a fantastic job of immediately displaying the theme through their choice of color and design for the cover art. Depicting pieces of childhood games all layered on top of one another, Korean American illustrator Christina Lee creates the sort of wild energy that comes with childhood creativity and imagination in game creation and play. It’s creative and fun and jumps out at you screaming “Read me! Read me!” in a way that declares reading it will be just as fun as the games discussed inside.
Issue 72 is 72 pages long, laid out with the first nine pages consisting of the “From the Editors” section, followed by 41 pages of short and long-form narrative essays, ending with 22 pages of six distinct columns that discuss the craft and style of writing. This issue was edited by Creative Nonfiction’s editor, Lee Gutkind, along with two guest editors Sasha Barab and Alan Gershenfeld both from the Center for Games and Impact at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University.
The main section, titled “Essays” consists of seven, 3-6 page nonfiction narratives all written by women who illuminate the various ways in which games and play have affected the lives of people across diverse demographics by allowing the forging of connections that would be difficult or even impossible otherwise.
In “Surviving,” Linda Stallman Gibson discusses an elaborate living room floor dinosaur game she often plays with her six-year-old grandson Matthew. Through the “dinosaur and the meteor” story, Gibson carefully works with Matthew to confront the mortality of our singular human lives, while acknowledging the persistence of life itself. She captures the curiosity of the young boy as he works through a sense of injustice regarding the extinction of the dinosaurs. Setting the tone for the issue, Gibson shows that through a simple game of Dino Drama, humans of any age can “confront [their] biggest fears, and act out ways to combat life's perils.”
Sheryl St. Germain’s “Whispers from the Field” brings joy and a renewed faith in human connection to a piece that might otherwise leave readers feeling hopeless. St. Germain recounts her experience playing World of Warcraft (WoW) with her son, stepson, and strangers online. Each experience builds real human connection through a virtual world and allows St. Germain, aka night-elf druid Enheduanna, to process the real world in a play-centered, less stressful way. St. Germain’s most notable encounter, Cobalt and his mother Katydid, allowed her to sympathize with the difficult life of this other mother, single and living in a trailer with five boys, while acknowledging the leading role WoW played in their meeting and eventual friendship. “For the first time, I thought about how difficult her life must have been… [.] It struck me at that moment how much she must have really needed the kind of transcendence—flow—the game offered.” Germain concludes with an important statement about online friends, that “these people, whom I have never met in real life…have become almost as close as real-life friends.”
In Yvette Benavides’s “The Story Behind the Story: All in the Cards,” she proves that the most mundane objects often make the richest writing prompts by finding inspiration in Lotería, a Mexican game of chance similar to bingo. Drawing from five pieces in the game, the boot, the soldier, the siren, the cactus, and the pine, Benavides pens interesting and introspective short stories about her life growing up in a Mexican American household. In the story of “The Pine,” Benavides talks about Christmas 1970 when she was gifted an AM radio, “when I tried to tune in the English language pop station […] what came through more clearly was the music from just across the border […] Spanish language love ballads.” Benavides concludes with, “for me […] as a writer of color in today’s America, Lotería, is no longer a game. It is life-giving, comprising the most essential parts of my true stories.”
Later in the issue, Geoff Martin’s column on constructing a writing life, “Exploring the Boundaries: The Fake MFA Syllabus” is just as it sounds, a five-and-a-half-page “syllabus-like” document that outlines how to structure your life when you decide to take “your yearlong writing retreat.” It’s very well done, without taking itself too seriously. Author, or more accurately “Student-Instructor” Martin clearly had fun penning this piece including quippy section headings such as: “Mission Statement: If not now…,” “Resources for Student: Your friend Derek’s incisive editorial eye,” and even including a monthly “Topical Outline” that serves as a course calendar for his MFA class. The information provided was creatively presented while still being highly topical and useful.
Creative Nonfiction rounds out Issue 72 with none other than a game itself. The AfterWORDS section provides readers with a painfully realistic “Procrastination Bingo” game sheet filled with playful squares such as “Clean your desk-you can’t work in this mess!,” “Reorder to-be-read pile,” and “Check availability for title of book you haven’t started” sporting the good-willed tagline “You could win a different way every day!”
The only problem I have with Creative Nonfiction are the ads scattered throughout the issue. They are only mildly annoying and understandably necessary to promote both alternate forms of their content along with other writing programs that are (presumably) paying to be present, but as a reader it really pulls me out of the fascinating worlds the contributors and editors worked so hard to create.
In this issue of Creative Nonfiction, find yourself in someone else’s game. Do not expect simplicity or a lack of creativity, but rather expect the best Creative Nonfiction has to offer: surprises. And in this issue, expect genuine human connection in its most basic form. These writers pull you into their games and their lives so we can share these emotions and experiences with them to emerge more hopeful for the personal, connected future.
Bria Peterson is a senior at Gonzaga University pursuing a double major in PR and English with a Writing Concentration. Originally from Wisconsin, she loves cows, hates cheese, and occasionally says bagel weird.