Jaimie (Hartter) Hays, M.A., M.F.A.
Education: Bachelor of Arts in English and mass communications (May 2000)
Master of Arts in English from Kansas State University
Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Pacific Lutheran University
McNair Project: Distinctions Between Literary Journalism and Creative Non-Fiction (1999)
Mentor: Chris Cokinos, M.F.A.
Mary Clearman Blew, a creative nonfiction writer, has said that "the boundaries of creative nonfiction have always been fluid as water," and this is indicative of how literary journalism seems to overlap into creative nonfiction. Literary journalism is more often found in newspapers or magazines, something one would call a "feature" story. Creative nonfiction includes, but is not limited to, personal essays and memoirs. The focus of this study is to determine whether the two are entirely separate genres, or if they share similar characteristics. The areas examined are subjectivity, truth, self-exploration, voice, and style/technique.
Personal interviews with a creative nonfiction writer, a freelancer, and a journalist who turned to creative nonfiction, as well as my own experiences and a variety of books written on each subject, support the areas I feel separate the two. Creative nonfiction writer Michael Steinberg said that for the most part the two differ in intent and expectation. Literary journalism is the more informative of the two, while creative nonfiction concentrates on events and how one event affects the other. The issues of self- exploration and self-discovery are also more important factors in creative nonfiction than in literary journalism.
Eric Dieterle, the journalist who turned to creative nonfiction, said there is a definite difference between the two, because literary journalism doesn't include composite scenes, a manipulation of chronology, and invention of quotes, with which creative nonfiction sometimes takes poetic license. He mentions it is important to keep in mind the ideas of truth and how truth is presented in each of these types of writings. In spite of the lyrical language used in literary journalism (compared to normal, everyday journalism), readers still expect accuracy and truth.
John Calderazzo, a freelance writer and creative nonfiction writer, said with creative nonfiction, readers need to give the writer some leeway to give a fair assessment of what happened. With literary journalism, it is the writer's responsibility to not skew any of the facts and paint an accurate depiction of what has been said.
The further I delved into each of the genres the more complicated and confusing it became. The boundaries that I once had thought separated the two were colliding with one another, as if I were trying to draw a line, as Mary Clearman Blew suggested, between two fluid boundaries. However, my purpose of trying to define it might be useful from a writer's standpoint. The very same questions of truth, objectivity, and subjectivity are ones that are constantly involved with creative nonfiction and literary journalism. When it could be asked, does one cease to be the other and simply exist as it's own genre? Most importantly, why must there be a difference?
There must be a difference, because if literary journalism borrows fiction techniques such as recreation of dialogue and manipulation of scenes as creative nonfiction does, then journalism would be subjective rather than objective. Perhaps the two must be separate because the intent is different. Creative nonfiction belongs to the realm of one person's introspection into a deeper subject, while journalism must strive for these deeper subjects while retaining this neutrality. However, once there are limitations placed on both, the issue of creative thinking is challenged. Most writers do not stop to think in which category their literary works will be placed. In spite of these differences which help define the lines, I came to the realization that descriptive writing, no matter what category it falls under, can make for a well-written story regardless of whether the writer had the intention of writing it as a piece of literary journalism or as creative nonfiction.