Monday, November 19, 2007

NonFiction Now...and Then...and Again

So many people have asked me to share my impressions and notes from my attendance at the NonFiction Now Conference, and frankly there was so much to take in and digest – and because I am still mulling it all over and thinking it all through -- I have decided to do it in short bursts over the next few weeks. I also thought this would be a nifty way for me to start my writing day, spending a few minutes recalling what it was that transpired over those three lit-rich days in Iowa.

So, today’s NonFiction Now minute will focus on the keynote remarks of Patricia Hampl. (And if you are a nonfiction sort and unfamiliar with Hampl’s work, better start reading, and don’t stop until you have made your way through a good part of her oeuvre.) Hampl started things off with a candid, relaxed and vibrant talk that challenged the conventional wisdom about the importance of a narrative arc in creative nonfiction.

“Narrative arc?” she asked quizzically, moving an index finger in the air to form an archway, then rhetorically shrugged her shoulders and deadpanned, “Huh?” Rather, she talked of memoir as “a series of tableaus, not a story,” or as “photographs, not a film,” in which “blanks, absences are expected.” She warned that the memoirist’s “chief sin is nostalgia,” and emphasized the important role that remembered objects and object descriptions can play in evoking story and character in memoir.

From a reader’s perspective, what is the point of memoir, she asked, and concluded: “You tell your story, and somehow, I get my own.”

When Hampl read from her powerful, haunting new memoir, The Florist’s Daughter, on the final night of the conference, she capped off a trend in conference readings, during which many writers shared works about a deceased parent.

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