It’s a common occurrence: Someone is telling a story — a true story — and then it happens. They begin to embellish and add. They gild the lily. Is it still true?
J. David Stevens, the prose writer-in-residence for Week Two at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, will discuss this dilemma with his Brown Bag lecture, “Where the Truth Lies: The Thin Line Between Creative Nonfiction and Fiction,” at 12:15 p.m. today on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.
Stevens said his Brown Bag topic was inspired by one of his previous visits to Chautauqua Institution as a writer-in-residence. He said he had writers in his workshop with good essays that straddled the line between fiction and creative
nonfiction. His lecture was borne from their questions over truth, fact and authenticity.
“It evolved out of my work with folks at Chautauqua last time,” Stevens said. “People seemed to feel this very conscious anxiety over whether they were writing fiction or nonfiction. Where is the line?”
Stevens said this question can weigh on the mind of the writer and even paralyze them.
“The reality of the situation is that most professional writers engaging the text at those levels say it doesn’t matter,” Stevens said. “You do what you’re going to do and create the best product you can.”
For Stevens, the rigid boundaries of genre shouldn’t dictate what writers think they can or cannot write.
Stevens said he hopes to loosen up his audience’s preconceived notions of literary genres, ones that they may have been holding on to since high school.
“I hope they’re taking away a historical sense of genre construction, meaning that here we are in 2015, and we’ve got these ideas about the novel and the short story and the essay and poems,” Stevens said. “And we like to imagine that the distinctions are clear and concrete and have always been the way they are. And in point of fact, they’re evolving fields and evolving terms.”