Establishing the Power of Truth in Creative Nonfiction

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date



College of Arts and Sciences


English Department

Faculty Sponsor

Carrie Seymour


Joan Didion writes in her essay “On Keeping a Notebook” that “not only have I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters.” Creative nonfiction is an embrace of subjective truth. It is a means of relating individual experience, research, and memory to an audience in compelling, engaging ways. As Dennis Covington writes in Salvation on Sand Mountain: “Either you walk into the experience or you turn away from it, but you know that no matter what you choose, you will have altered your life in a permanent way.” Using techniques of fiction, creative nonfiction writers—across the sub-genres of literary journalism, memoir, personal essays, and researched personal essays—explore what subjective truth means, and offer insights into perspectives different and disparate from our own. This paper analyzes how truth is used and established in the sub-genres of creative nonfiction, while also aiming to determine how individual authors, such as Joan Didion, Truman Capote, Patti Smith, and Mary Crow Dog use different rhetorical strategies to gain authority in pursuit of true recollection, research, and experience.

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