Writer Roy Hoffman wants to introduce the audience at his Brown Bag lecture to a family member.
“With the theme this week, I wanted to offer an overview of traditional journalism’s colorful sibling, creative nonfiction,” Hoffman said. “The genre — which is at the intersection of fact and point of view, reportage and interpretation — is what I call a ‘big-tent’ genre.”
Week Eight’s theme of “Media and the News: Ethics in the Digital Age” offered an excellent opportunity to discuss creative nonfiction, Hoffman said. He said he sees it as a “big-tent” genre because it covers many different forms, including personal essays, memoirs, travel writing, reportage and narrative nonfiction.
Hoffman will give his Brown Bag, titled “Tell It In Fact: The Allure of Creative Nonfiction,” at 12:15 p.m. Friday on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.
“Some stories don’t have to be invented,” Hoffman said. “Some stories really give credence to that adage that truth is stranger than fiction.”
Hoffman is Week Eight’s prose writer-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. He teaches English at Spalding University’s M.F.A. program and is the author of five books. His essay collections Alabama Afternoons and Back Home are part of the creative nonfiction tradition that Hoffman plans to discuss with his lecture.
One clarification Hoffman wants to make about the genre is that the “creative” in creative nonfiction does not mean fabrication, he said, which is increasingly important in the era of “fake news.”
He said that creative nonfiction forces readers to engage more fully with the story being presented.
“The kinds of nonfiction that I’m talking about — while rooted in research and reportage and interviewing — they can’t be reduced to a simple soundbite or a tweet,” Hoffman said. “They are stories that insist you enter into them, and they help you do that through the beauty and drama of the prose.”
Hoffman said he’ll discuss some of the masters of creative nonfiction, such as Joan Didion, Truman Capote and Thomas Wolfe. He’ll also examine the work of “a newer generation of writers grappling with our landscape as nonfiction storytellers,” which he said includes Katherine Boo, Sebastian Junger, Laura Hillenbrand and Week Eight’s Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle author, Dan Barry.
Writers of creative nonfiction emphasize story and character, Hoffman said, and marry these elements to more traditional tenets of journalism, such as investigative reporting, presentation of facts and gathering of credible sources.
“Creative nonfiction adds the step of putting the emphasis on scene-setting, character development and dialogue in a way that I think helps make sense of the complexities in the world,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman said he’s finding the genre of creative nonfiction more and more important in a world that is “increasingly topsy-turvy” because it “speaks to the heart of today in a special and dynamic fashion.”
And he hopes his audience will attune themselves to the possibilities of fact-based stories, Hoffman said. It might give the audience a little more awareness of the tradition of creative nonfiction, and perhaps they’ll even pick up one of the books he plans to discuss, he said.
“These works piece together bits and pieces of the world around us in a cogent and absorbing way,” Hoffman said.