When I discovered creative nonfiction I’d just turned thirty, was self-schooled in queer and activist literatures, newly in love with the woman who is still my spouse, newly sober, even newly tattooed, and recently returned to university. I’d dropped out of pre-journalism school in the late 1970s, in part because no line of study fit me and no course syllabus included the books I was reading. More than one professor told me feminist and lesbian content was not literary and I didn’t even know I could major in creative writing, so I left college to work as a community organizer, a waitress, a feminist theater publicist and a temp secretary—and to write.
When I returned to school, in the 1980s heyday of radical theory, the academic mood had changed. I knew I was a writer by then, and I was no longer the only one intent on studying writing in ways that put the desires of the body before convention. I began work on a self-designed BA that merged creative writing, poetics, film studies, a bit of feminist theory–trying to make a place for myself—but I also knew that places shift and lived narrative is never linear. Discovering, in a writing workshop, creative nonfiction was like finding my lost city.
What I’ve loved, from the start, about CNF has been the ways this genre is creatively weird, much like myself—both misunderstood and claimed by more than one constituency, attentive to form but difficult to classify, with quirky yet intentionally designed exteriors, slippery rules, a mutating understanding of identity, a commitment to getting past the bullshit and making unexpected connections, and a grounding in an unmasked, yet lyric, voice.