Questions on Genre

Thanks, Summer, for pointing out this really interesting interview with Lee Gutkind on Creative Nonfiction. It is a healthy reminder of how many challenges the genre has gone through to earn a respected place, especially in academia. Though I think there is a good point in that readers have been reading creative nonfiction anyway, it just may not have been going by that name. I tend to think of it as ‘good, true stories,’ or maybe ‘travel writing,’ or ‘nature writing…’ genres blur quickly.

It also strikes me that ‘creative nonfiction’ never seemed new or unusual to me when I completed the excellent BA in English with a focus in Creative Writing at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (now Randolph College,) perhaps because our skilled professors were (and are) talented and published in a variety of genres, including novels, poetry, and environmental (creative) nonfiction.

Sue Guiney's book 'Dreams of May' is a poetry play.

That, coupled with my predisposition for doing what I pleased (from birth: my mother will attest,) meant I didn’t question genre too closely when writing. I do remember being absolutely certain, as an undergrad, that I could and would write poetry and creative nonfiction, but that I needed to stay away from fiction as I was rubbish at it, especially dialogue. And now I’m working on a third novel manuscript. These things take time.

While the aforementioned manuscript is under critique and before I delve into serious revision, I’m working on a different project, and I’m not quite sure what it is yet. Poems, dialogue, and narrative are all coming out around a particular theme in (surprise,) the history of science. There is a clear story, and distinctive characters, as well as a lot of strong imagery and tone. There is also a very specific setting, certain artwork and a particular music album that is influencing the writing. I wish I could weave something that employed all of these (though I don’t know about copyright permissions!) It almost feels like a play; a performance. I know so little about any of these (besides reading a lot of Shakespeare in Uni,) that I don’t quite know what to do with the material. For now, I’m writing. We’ll see where it goes…

My friend Sue Guiney has written a novel as well as a poetry play. She also works with a charity that puts on plays. Multi-genre talents!

 So, dear readers, I would appreciate your thoughts. What genre(s) are you writing in? Do you feel you can write in some but not others? Have you moved around or are you a devoted poet, novelist…What about cross-genre writing? A play in poetry, or a novel with poems in it? An entire verse novel? A sequence that can be read/performed but also works as a book?

2 thoughts on “Questions on Genre

  1. Thanks so much for talking about my stuff and making my crazy genre hopping seem almost…premeditated. It’s true – I can’t seem to stop myself from writing in whatever makes sense at the time, and it hasn’t hurt me yet. If anything, I think it keeps the creativity flowing.

  2. That’s a good point, Sue – it may not be premeditated exactly, but that certain subjects seem to demand a certain genre. I don’t think you should try to stop yourself from writing in what makes sense at the time! We welcome the muse…

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