I began copy editing for Creative Nonfiction in 2005, with issue 26. At that time, the journal followed the AP Stylebook, which kicked my heiney at first, especially with its twisted rules regarding italics, which drove me to the edge of insanity. I had settled in by the time we hit #28, though, and I found myself enjoying the essays as an ordinary reader. Or maybe the essays were so powerful they simply made me forget my “track changes” function.
I got lost along with Meredith Hall, wandering across Europe in “Without a Map,” an essay so visually epic that I’d have sworn it was written by a cinematographer. Then there was Gay Talese’s romp with Tina Brown and John and Lorena Bobbitt in the excerpt from A Writer’s Life. What he said about men, women, sexual politics, and how we ought to revere the penis chased me for years, until I finally wrote a response—maybe the best essay I’ve ever written. If someone’s work hops me up and gets me in the chair at my desk, stringing words together, it doesn’t much matter whether it pissed me off.
Five years after this issue was published, I started writing life narratives for death penalty defendants, and while trying to teach their attorneys how to write similarly, I suddenly remembered Megan Foss’s “Fourteen Years in the Making,” a memoir of addiction and prostitution. I hadn’t thought much about the essay at the time of production, but Megan’s story was suddenly a bright light in my head. Revisiting it, I understood my job as case storyteller better. Her tale reminds us that “criminals,” often, are simply victims whose traumas have led to making bad choices.
Finally, there’s Margaret Price’s skilled lyric essay, “Then You’ll Be Straight,” which haunts me every fall when I meet new faculty. It’s a lyric essay so skilled that when I reread it, I want to write my own lyric essay—and now—and I teach it in every graduate nonfiction workshop because it makes my students want to write lyric essays, too. Because it’s set in a seemingly innocuous environment—a late twentieth-century university campus where everyone is supposed to be so smart and open-minded—it provides disturbing evidence that prejudice never dies. White, black, gay, straight: we must keep telling stories and telling them well.
Just now, rereading issue 28 once again, all these years later, I feel near homesick for the essays contained therein. I even miss AP style.
– Jill Patterson