Intro to “Three Spheres”

Issue 3 holds a special place of importance to me: It not only marked the first Creative Nonfiction that I worked on from start to finish, but it also marked my return to the workforce after several years at home, raising three children. Like the eight featured writers, I, too, was emerging.

In re-reading this almost twenty-year-old issue now, I am struck by how relevant the essays remain. The varied voices and writing styles evoke themes of personal discovery, loss, aging, and coming of age that still resonate strongly today. Over my eight years at the journal, I screened hundreds of submissions that touched on these very themes, and after a while, I confess, one began to blend into the next. (It was never easy to write rejection letters, especially about personal essays.) Every so often, however, an essay would literally pop off the page, riveting me with new ways of expressing the human condition.

One such piece in this issue grabbed me twenty years ago and still does. That is Lauren Slater’s “Three Spheres.” The essay exemplifies what I love about creative nonfiction—writing that is intimate and detailed, writing that teaches and is in some way unpredictable. Slater subtly and seamlessly shifts perspective between her current life as a therapist assigned to treat a mentally ill patient at a local hospital and her own experience, eight years prior, as a patient at the very same place. Illuminated by searing details and insight—as when she uses the familiar patients’ bathroom, causing the nurse to remind her to use the staff facilities—Slater writes: “Can she guess [who I am]? But in a way, I am one of the patients, and she could be, too.” The powerful ending, bridging the gap between healer and patient, still brings tears to my eyes.

Far from “emerging” now, Slater has gone on to acclaim and controversy (Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir, Opening Skinners Box) in the ensuing years. The genre, too, continues to provoke and challenge the writing establishment. And yet, one could say creative nonfiction, too, is no longer emerging; it has arrived.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to be part of this growing movement—and the journal, which continues to capture new and experienced voices, and which has proven itself worthy of endurance.

– Leslie Boltax Aizenman

About the Author

Leslie Boltax Aizenman

Leslie Boltax Aizenman began working at Creative Nonfiction with Issue 2 and was variously the business manager, marketing manager, and managing editor until Issue 19. She is currently director of refugee services for a nonprofit social service agency.

View Essays