Issue #70, Home
What's the Story #70
From the Editor
What's the Story #70
Home! Yes, that’s the theme of this issue, and the essays we’ve selected approach it from many evocative angles. Of course, there are stories about houses—Emily Waples’s seemingly haunted house in Ohio, offering up omen after omen, for example, is particularly memorable. But even more, there are stories about entire neighborhoods and towns, and how they got to be the places they are. Shelley Puhak recounts the “Frankenfish” invasion of her Maryland hometown, which was originally designed to keep out any kind of invaders, and Herb Harris traces the evolution of the Washington, D.C., neighborhood where he grew up, which declined rapidly following the riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Harris recalls going back to visit his parents and feeling like a fearful outsider, nervous about walking down the street; home isn’t home forever, and it’s not always where we feel most safe—as Rebecca Lanning learns from a passing encounter with a murderer.
Other stories take a wider view, meditating on what home represents. Emily Wortman- Wunder considers a time, surely imminent, when her parents will have to leave their five-acre wooded property—surely a sensible decision, but one that also feels like the end of the world to her. Brenda van Dyck struggles to orient her increasingly disoriented father, who while sitting in his own living room in the evening would ask if it was time to go home: “Where is home,” [my mother] would ask him. He didn’t know, but he was certain he wasn’t there.” And Susan Meyers explores the U.S.-Mexico border, recounting the early expeditions that laid down stone monuments that have, over time, grown into more concrete and impassable boundaries.
We’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of “home” at CNF recently, not least because not too long ago we moved into a very nice renovated house in the Bloomfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Formerly the residence and studio of a prominent painter, it has lots of open space, skylights, hardwood floors, and a terrific space that can comfortably accommodate twenty-five or so people for a workshop (and many more than that for a party). These are super digs that will allow us to continue to grow.
We will soon be growing in other ways, too; we recently received a generous grant to build, from scratch, a new website—a new online home for Creative Nonfiction. Our current website, launched in 2012, was structured to feature Creative Nonfiction magazine, which, at that time, was our only publication and product. Since then, as you might know, we have established a book imprint (In Fact Books), a pocket-sized monthly magazine (True Story), and a very active and constantly expanding schedule of online writing courses, which have so far helped more than 3,000 writers around the world build their skills and find their stories. Five years ago, we launched an annual creative nonfiction conference in Pittsburgh, and our space has made it possible for us to host readings and workshops for local and visiting writers on-site (and online via webinar).
If you’ve been to the CNF site in recent years, you’ve probably noticed how all of this activity—and more—has been wedged in and tacked on; we know that sometimes it’s hard to find what you’re looking for. And if you’ve tried to visit the site from your phone, you’ve also noticed that the site isn’t mobile-responsive. We are definitely grateful for the opportunity to update and upgrade the site to make it a friendlier place to spend time reading and learning about creative nonfiction.
Creative Nonfiction is due for an update, too, and I’m happy to announce that the grant includes additional support for a redesign. Longtime readers will remember that Creative Nonfiction started as more of a traditional journal, but then we re-launched in 2012 as the magazine you’re (probably) holding now. And now, it’s time for a bit of a remodel—a renovation, if you will.
In many ways, the process of redesigning a magazine is like revising an essay: you know you have something pretty damn good, but you also know that it can be even better. You need to change some stuff, add and remove some stuff, and turn some stuff around. We’re discussing making some changes to various aspects of the magazine, like cover design, page size, and the mix of content—it’s all up for discussion right now, and we’re having exciting conversations with our design and editorial teams as well as our editorial boards and, of course, our readers. You may well have some ideas of your own about how we might serve you and the genre a bit better. If so, I hope you’ll be in touch; I’d love to hear your insights.
I’d also like to tell you about another change and a new home for the contents and brand of two other very well-respected literary magazines: Brain, Child and its companion Brain, Teen. As you might have heard, the CNF Foundation purchased all of the contents of both magazines. Marcelle Soviero, editor and publisher of both magazines, decided to turn her attention and direct her efforts to other areas of publishing, and asked if we would be interested in assuming responsibility for the contents of her magazines. As a longtime Creative Nonfiction reader and contributor, she felt assured that our organization could care for and protect the Brain, Child legacy and, perhaps in some way, keep it alive.
Marcelle purchased Brain, Child in 2012 from its founders, Jennifer Niesslein and Stephanie Wilkinson, and the story of how they started their magazine was quite appealing to me. It reminded me of the feelings of hope and dedication to a mission I had when I started Creative Nonfiction, supported by my wife and a couple of faithful graduate students twenty-five years ago.
Back then, creative nonfiction, as a genre, was just beginning to be discussed and debated in the academy and in the publishing world. While major magazines, like Esquire, the New Yorker, and Harper’s, were publishing nonfiction narrative, mostly referred to back then as “new journalism” or “fact pieces,” there were very few outlets in the literary world, amongst the hundreds of journals at the time, for serious nonfiction.
This was at a time when creative writing programs were just beginning to come into vogue in colleges and universities. Courses and degrees were offered in poetry and fiction, but nonfiction was considered neither scholarly nor artful. My idea was to launch a literary journal that looked similar to very respected publications, like the Paris Review, the Georgia Review, etc., but which published nonfiction narrative exclusively. I had no idea then that this little publication would help launch a movement and solidify a genre, but I did believe in the power and importance of the true story form. I had kind of a double hope and vision: that I could really discover some great writers and publish high quality nonfiction work and, at the same time, bring some attention and legitimacy to the genre. I believe I’ve done that. And now, after twenty-five years of regular publication, here you are, reading our 70th issue. We have come a long way. And we are continuing to move forward.
Brain, Child came together in a similar way and grew out of the same kind of vision and desire to create a home for a kind of writing that didn’t have one. Jennifer and Stephanie, both budding writers, first met in Charlottesville, at the University of Virginia. They moved to different towns and found each other again as mothers of newborns. As a 2002 profile in the Christian Science Monitor explained, “Soon, the pair were writing their thoughts and trading essays, but they found no outlet for publishing their efforts in the category of motherhood lit. In fact, there was no such category.” One day, over coffee, agreeing that “having a baby didn’t necessarily mean losing all intellectual stimulation,” they decided to do something about it. The result, launched in 2000, was Brain, Child—“the magazine for thinking mothers.” For the next dozen years, while working from home and offices, bedrooms and kitchens, and caring for their growing families, they published, regularly, a magazine that grew to have a readership of 36,000 and featured work from writers like Cheryl Strayed, Anne Hood, and Susan Cheever. They eventually decided they needed to make a change and start new projects, as editors and writers, and they passed the torch to Marcelle, who has now passed it to us.
As you can see, we’ve got a lot to do at Creative Nonfiction over the next year or so. At a time when many important literary publications are shutting down, or moving entirely online, I think the work we do here at CNF is more important than ever. We intend to keep pursuing our mission—and, above all, providing a good home for creative nonfiction writers and writing—for at least another twenty-five years. I hope you’ll stay with us.
Lee Gutkind, recognized by Vanity Fair as “the Godfather behind creative nonfiction,” is the founder and editor of Creative... read more
In August 2010, a young writer named Elissa Bassist moved from San Francisco to Brooklyn to start working on an MFA in creative nonfiction... read more