Lessons Learned from the Nieman Narrative Nonfiction Conference (III)

OK. Here are my final thoughts (for the moment) about something I gleaned from the conference. (I know I promised a conference summary in the next newsletter, but I’d rather devote the space to the words and wisdom of a fantastic interviewee. Watch the newsletter for the interview!)

This last lesson actually returns to an issue highlighted in a previous post, which quoted Lee Gutkind’s reminder that “There are two types of stories. One type is one’s own story. The other type is telling the stories of others.”

As I’ve said before, I’ve encountered many creative nonfiction writers who seem to believe that the genre is synonymous with–and limited to–memoir. Looking outward is far from the point–interpreting one’s own experience is.

So it was interesting to find at this conference–attended by so many practicing newspaper and magazine journalists–that some people focus too much on the opposite and really have to learn how to bring their own narrative, first-person voice into a work of nonfiction. They know how to “report” on other people, but they may need to slow down and craft other characters: themselves.

Still, here’s the overall message: there’s room for everyone at the narrative table.

The Latest from JBooks.com

The latest offerings from JBooks.com: The Online Jewish Book Community are now available. As someone who has not infrequently submitted work to anthologies, frankly enjoys reading them, and sometimes even daydreams about possible anthology topics myself, I found Sanford Pinsker’s piece, inspired by a new anthology edited by Jerome Charyn, a very intriguing read. (Of course, I’m also partial to my own current JBooks.com contribution, a review of Abigail Pogrebin’s Stars of David.)

Food Writing Scholarships–Deadline Approaching!

If you’re interested in attending The Symposium for Professional Food Writers at The Greenbrier next March–but worried about the cost–check out the several scholarships that are available. But do it soon, because the application deadline is December 15. New this year: The Leite’s Culinaria Scholarship for Narrative Food Writing, a $1,000 scholarship to be awarded “to a novice food writer (writing for fewer than five years) whose work is narrative in nature. The goal of the scholarship is to promote literary writing (essays, food novels or narrative nonfiction) that has a strong, expressive voice and a unique perspective on the world of food.”

Lessons Learned from the Nieman Narrative Nonfiction Conference (II)

Here’s a lesson learned: pay close attention to any conference that offers a “First Pages” session. The Nieman Narrative Nonfiction Conference regularly offers this kind of session, and according to Sarah Wernick (who moderated Sunday morning’s session), it’s something borrowed from children’s writers’ conferences.

This is how it worked on Sunday. Attendees who planned to attend the session were invited to submit (in advance) the first pages from their narrative nonfiction projects. At the session eleven such first pages were read aloud (by readers specially present for the job–the pages were kept anonymous). After each page was read, the panel critiqued it. And the panel included two agents and two editors.

Hearing specific comments from each of the panelists on other people’s work proved infinitely more valuable than any individual yet generic “this isn’t for us…hope it finds a home with another agent/publisher” I’ve received to date.

If you want more details about this First Pages session (or maybe some guidance on how you might run a similar session at a conference yourself), click here.