Regis Mile High MFA has asked me to pull together a large lecture hall seminar for our next residency on the ethics of creative nonfiction. I’m calling it, “ truth, TRUTH, my story, your story: The Ethics of (Creative) (Non) fiction.” As I scroll through the famous infamies of creative “non-truths” in the past decades—James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea to name the most web-notorious—I realize that my students don’t worry so much over the truthfulness of their stories as they do over their own capacities to hurt (or enrage) those close to them– good, bad, and/or ugly–who appear in the often painful memories these students find themselves compelled to write.
As a poet, I thought nothing of truth or ethics. The poet Richard Hugo declared what we poets already knew: “You owe reality nothing and the truth about your feelings everything.” But then I wrote my first creative nonfiction book, Phantom Canyon: Essays of Reclamation, about a subject I had never broached with my family since the long decades past when my mother and father took me to testify in court against the stranger who assaulted me by the side of a graveyard. Each time afterward, they would stop off at the local ice cream parlor with me, in hopes, I think now, of returning me to the normalcy of childhood through a chocolate chip sundae, even after that last day in court when the judge read the verdict and the mother of the rapist half-collapsed at the end of the long court bench within reach of me, weeping to her son, “You said you didn’t do it,” as the police led her nineteen-year-old, convicted and sentenced, down the aisle between us.Continue reading “Difficult Grace: Michael Chabon’s essay, “Final Frontier,” and the Balance of Truth and Fathers (and Mothers) in CNF”