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Lee Gutkind on Creative Nonfiction and The Art of Literary Fist-Fighting

Friday, January 12, 2024 at 6:00 PM until 7:00 PMEastern Standard Time

Writing in The New Yorker in the fall of 2023, Louis Menand credits the writer Lee Gutkind as the first person to use the term “creative nonfiction,” in print—thirty years ago.

Menand’s credit to Gutkind is noteworthy, although a few writers and critics have used the term in print sparingly, off and on, as far back as the early 1940s. Gutkind’s achievement and unrivaled contribution to the literary ecosystem through creative nonfiction was his belief in the importance and value of the genre and the rewards it could bring to writers of all genres and to their readers long before 30 years ago. Gutkind has worked tirelessly to not only bring legitimacy to the genre—in the face of ongoing criticism and rejection—but to provide a definition and a scope of flexibility to the genre that would bring clarity to a term that was, to many writers and readers, somewhat amorphous and perhaps contradictory.Creative nonfiction—true stories enriched by relevant ideas, insights, and intimacies—offered liberation to writers, allowing them to push their work in freewheeling directions. The genre also opened doors to outsiders—doctors, lawyers, construction workers—who felt they had stories to tell about their lives and experiences.

His newest book, to be published by Yale University Press on January 23, 2024, The Fine Art of Literary FistFighting: How a Bunch of RabbleRousers, Outsiders, and Ne’erdowells Concocted Creative Nonfiction, documents the evolution of the genre, discussing the lives and work of such practitioners as Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Rachel Carson, Upton Sinclair, Janet Malcolm, and Vivian Gornick. Gutkind also highlights the ethics of writing creative nonfiction, including how writers handle the distinctions between fact and fiction.
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