He writes stories.Posted: September 14, 2008
“I write stories,” he said.
This man with a turquoise earring and a passion for venti Starbucks Pike brews and old “Law and Order” episodes awakens at 4:30 every morning — because sleep is a waste of time — and writes a story every day.
“I’m not sure I’ve told you yet,” he continued, pacing his syllables as in a chant, a glint of mischief in his eyes, “but the building blocks of creative nonfiction are scenes and stories.”
He’d said it at least eleven times. It was a point he wanted to make.
“The smart writer sucks the reader in and manipulates the reader.” He paused for emphasis. “Catch the readers, tell them a story. Make the story as good as you can, make the readers want to hear the end. But don’t tell them.”
Black marker in hand, he paced to the left, then to the right, his steps in cadence with his words. He wore a black mock turtleneck and a dark gold linen blazer — was it planned, did he know Vanderbilt’s colors, should he have worn orange on a fall Saturday in Tennessee? Oh God, not even I remembered to wear orange. (Wait. This is a tangent. Let me stop here.)
“Stories are elastic. Pliable. Sometimes a story can be stretched out so much you can put other stories in it. Nine, ten, twelve, fifteen stories can be framed within a story. The frame is your container for all the other stories.”
I gripped my pen. I scribbled the words across the blue lines of my notebook paper, so fast they slanted left instead of right. I held my breath so I could write faster.
“Have some idea of where you want the story to go. But let the story take you where it needs to go.”
I smiled and nodded agreement. It happens all the time to me. The story takes over the wheel, pulls away left or right, ventures off down its own path, and I’m holding on to the back bumper, laughing at it, letting it go, stumbling along happily with it. It surprises me every time, and I love it. It’s what being a writer is all about.
Lee Gutkind led the Council for the Written Word‘s 15th Annual Fall Workshop, and there were 110 people in attendance. Lee taught the workshop in the same way he encouraged us to write creative nonfiction — in scenes and stories. Because the building blocks of creative nonfiction are scenes and stories.
Lee Gutkind is a pioneer in the genre of creative nonfiction. He taught the first college course in the genre at the University of Pittsburgh in 1973. He founded the creative nonfiction program and MFA degree in the genre at Pitt—the first in the world, copied by universities nationwide. He is the former director of the writing program at Pitt and currently professor of English there. He has traveled worldwide to conduct workshops and to introduce the creative nonfiction movement in spots all over the globe.
In 2007, he brought creative nonfiction to the South — to Oxford, Mississippi. In 2008, he brought creative nonfiction to Franklin, Tennessee. (And I got to introduce him!)
Lee Gutkind coined the term creative nonfiction. Lee Gutkind is the Godfather of creative nonfiction.
Lee Gutkind writes stories. Because the building blocks of creative nonfiction are scenes and stories.
Friday evening a few of us enjoyed dinner at the Boxwood Bistro at The Factory in Franklin. We ate shrimp and grits and popcorn ice cream in a private dining room and talked till midnight.