Deakin University
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Clarifying creative nonfiction through the personal essay

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journal contribution
posted on 2012-10-01, 00:00 authored by Robin Freeman, Karen Le RossignolKaren Le Rossignol
In a recent issue of TEXT, Matthew Ricketson sought to clarify the ‘boundaries between fiction and nonfiction’. In his capacity as a teacher of the creative nonfiction form he writes, ‘I have lost count of the number of times, in classes and in submitted work, that students have described a piece of nonfiction as a novel’. The confusion thus highlighted is not restricted to Ricketson’s journalism students. In our own university’s creative writing cohort, students also struggle with difficulties in melding the research methodology of the journalist with the language and form of creative writing required to produce nonfiction stories for a 21st century readership.
Currently in Australia creative nonfiction is enthusiastically embraced by publishers and teaching institutions. Works of memoir proliferate in the lists of mainstream publishers, as do anthologies of the essay form. During a time of increasing competition and desire for differentiation between institutions, when graduate outcomes form a basis for marketing university degrees, it is hardly surprising that, increasingly, tertiary writing teachers focus on this genre in their writing programs.
A second tension has arisen in higher education more generally, which affects our writing students’ approaches to tertiary study. The student writers of the 21st century emerge from a digitally literate and socially collaborative generation: the NetGen(eration). From a learner-centric viewpoint, they could be described as time-poor, and motivated by work-integrated learning with its perceived close links to workplace contexts and to writing genres. They seek just-in-time learning to meet their immediate employment needs, which inhibits the development of their capacity to adapt their researching and writing to various genres and audiences.
This article examines issues related to moving these NetGen student writers into the demanding and rapidly expanding creative nonfiction market. It is form rather than genre that denotes creative nonfiction and, we argue, it is the unique features of the personal essay, based as it is on doubt, discovery and the writer’s personal voice that can be instrumental in teaching creative nonfiction writing to our digitally and socially literate cohort of students.









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