What’s the Story #14

The themes of the 11 essays collected in this issue, What Men Write, What Men Think, are curious to consider. Men, it seems, write about their fathers, their heritage, their professions and their cars, not about their mothers, their wives or their children. Even sex, although a subject that may obsess some men in conversation and/or fantasy, is paid scant attention by these essayists. In an issue of all women writers published last year (Issue No.12, Emerging Women Writers II), the essays were much more eclectic from an overall, thematic point of view: Husbands, families, mothers, children, animals (and sex) were fair game. “What does this mean?” a woman colleague asked at a recent production meeting. “Do men not consider women and children worthy of writing about? Are women and children (and sex) too difficult to contemplate in writing?” This issue is certainly not meant to be a representative sample of men’s attitudes and general conflicts and ideas they choose to ponder, but the question is an interesting one. While deliberations of sex, women, mothers and families are not central themes, missing too from this issue is the topic of sports, about which men do constantly obsess and frequently write.

What Men Write, What Men Think embraces a rich brew of topics, however: Orman Day’s encounters with credit-card companies; Norman Farrell Jr.’s transition to Japan and his fascination with plant life; J. David Stevens’ mania for driving and storytelling; Robert Vivian’s supernatural ruminations about crows; distinguished short-story writer Peter LaSalle’s freezing of a moment in Manhattan in “The City at Three P.M.: An Essay on Writing.”

The spirit of the work men do, having experiences that we translate into compelling and enlightening prose, is reflected in the “other” professions of some of the writers: Farrell teaches conversational English in Tokyo; Vivian is a graduate student playwright from the University of Nebraska; Orman Day is a public relations consultant and backpacker who has hiked through 90 countries. Charles Fanning (“I Haven’t Been That Far, But I’ve Been to Norwood”) is an academician whose research encompasses Irish ethnic/immigrant writing in America; this is his first personal essay about his own Irish-American heritage. Greg Martin’s first book, “Mountain City,” from which his essay (“Cutting the Snow”) is taken, is forthcoming this spring from North Point Press.

This issue of Creative Nonfiction also includes the third and final installment of Madison Smartt Bell’s Haitian saga, “Soul in a Bottle.” Bell, whose second novel of a trilogy about the Haitian revolution, titled “Master of the Crossroads,” will soon be published, is but one of our many writers who achieve excellence in more than one genre. Another is Pulitzer Prize finalist C.K. Williams, a poet. His bittersweet ruminations about his father appear in this issue and come from his memoir, “Misgivings,” which will be published later this year.

Although the themes of What Men Write, What Men Think significantly differ from those in our Emerging Women Writers II issue, what is worth noting about good narrative nonfiction is not so much what distinguishes the men writers from the women, but more so, what doesn’t. The best of this work tells a story, defines character, provides (journalistic) information, allows for reflection and the establishment of a personal voice. The works of Fanning, Lee Martin (“Traps”), and Kenneth Sherman (“Void and Voice: Notes from Poland”) are especially effective in that classic context.

All of the essays in this and every issue we have published over the past seven years reflect the kind of work we are soliciting for the Creative Nonfiction Millennium Award, sponsored by the Bayer Corporation: $2,000 for the best original essay, as well as three fellowships worth approximately $700 each to the Fifth Annual Mid-Atlantic Creative Nonfiction Summer Writers’ Conference, August 8-13 at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland.

For the Millennium Award, we are looking for an essay characterized by the skillful blending of information on topics that unite the arts and sciences, for reportage that uses dramatic narrative and provides incisive reflection. All writers are eligible. For the conference fellowships, essays by all writers on any subject will be considered, but priority will be given to emerging writers and to writers whose work evokes an ethnically diverse experience. Write to us for submission information.

The Mid-Atlantic Creative Nonfiction Summer Writers’ Conference is devoted exclusively to the emerging genre of creative nonfiction and offers workshops, readings, personal manuscript evaluations, and panels on creative nonfiction. The faculty this year includes Katherine Russell Rich (“The Red Devil: To Hell with Cancer-and Back”), Susan Hack (Condé Nast Traveler Magazine), Marita Golden (“A Miracle Every Day: Triumph and Transformation in the Lives of Single Mothers”), Jo Ann Beard (“The Boys of My Youth”), and Dinty Moore (“The Accidental Buddhist”) and features special guests Edmund Morris, author of “Dutch” (the controversial new biography of Ronald Reagan) and William Least Heat-Moon, author of “Blue Highways.”

About the Author

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Lee Gutkind

Lee Gutkind is the author and editor of more than thirty books, including You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between, Almost Human: Making Robots Think, The Best Seat in Baseball: But You Have to Stand, Forever Fat: Essays by the Godfather, and the award-winning, Many Sleepless Nights: The World of Organ Transplantation.

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