What does it mean to be a writer today? What does a nonfiction writer mean?
Over the weekend, I attended NonfictionNOW, a conference for writers focusing on creative nonfiction, a relatively newer genre of writing. Creative nonfiction is generally seen as factual information told through a creative lens such as memoirs, essays, journals, articles and more, both personal and impersonal. It is a quickly growing and changing field of writing. As you’re flipping through these pages and reading these words, you are interacting with creative nonfiction.
The panels this year ranged from speaking on the craft of nonfiction to the ethics of writing. Some of the panels included discourse on forms of nonfiction, craft and subgenres within nonfiction. Although there were several dozen panels to attend, the ones I sat through had a clear theme that stuck out to me: we have the ability as writers to promote social justice. Writing is a form of communication, so what are we using it for? A discussion on “Unexpected Activism” was just as politically and ethically charged as a panel on “Bilingualism” or “Decolonizing Nonfiction.” Even the first speaker of the conference, author of The Line Becomes a River Francisco Cantú, fell into a topic of research and personal narrative on immigration, as if he were performing a call to action in the face of what should have just been an introduction to the conference. If all of these panels deal with differing political aspects, do writers have the responsibility of using their work to somehow acknowledge the causes in which they are divulging? Perhaps we do.
Long before the conference, I knew that I wanted to feel like a part of the nonfiction community. I wanted to contribute. So I submitted a few panels for consideration and felt that I had a chance of getting to continue or start conversation. My original panels were rejected, which didn’t surprise me as I was young, underpublished and this would be my first conference. I was persistent, however, and I found myself speaking on a panel called “We Need Some Kind of Tomorrow,” which dealt with writers of color not giving concession to white audiences. How are we, as WoC (Writers of Color), allowing ourselves to write freely without having to contextualize ourselves, our culture and our language in a predominantly white world? I loved it. The panel was a zeitgeist dream of mine. I am still working to understand how this is done and how authors are accomplishing this in their own writing. On my panel were two smart women from RMIT University who spoke on the inauthenticity of online persona versus personal narrative of WoC voices due to marketing choices in a predominant white audience base and incorporating real life examples through magazine articles of “stereotyped” white reaction. I spoke on erasure of language in non-bilingual education systems and how this creates gaps between understanding and communication. Our panel, too, was political. It was strangely comforting to know that I could help lead a conversation on a topic so important to myself.
In attending NonfictionNow, I found that I and other young writers were able to witness a different side to writing. This is when there are no longer just words on page but a mouth behind them. This is when the author speaks and encourages the type of thinking that allowed them to find themselves inside of this new genre. This is the time and place for discussion to foster between old and new, inexperienced and experienced. It felt incredible just to be in the seats watching this genre become what it has the potential to be. What we have the potential to be. Being a young writer, someone who still has so much to figure out about myself, my writing and where I take up space in the world, who has been given so many opportunities such as speaking at a conference on the work that I produce, has only encouraged me to be better and to question the motives behind my writing. I want to impact readers and writers of all ages. During this conference, I realized that even young writers have a say in the world. We are not limited, for we all speak to ears as long as they’re listening.