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Creative Nonfiction, issue 57: Making a Living (fall 2015)

I had a dream that the next issue came and I had not yet reviewed this one. It was stressful. So, I’d better get to it…

CNF-57-Cover-WebcropThe “Making a Living”-themed issue of Creative Nonfiction is as good as ever. (You can read my review of the previous issue here.) And as ever, I have a few favorites. First of all, Ned Stuckey-French’s opening essay “Required Reading” tells of his reliance on Studs Terkel’s Working to inform his work as a union organizer: a communist college graduate, he’d faked a resume that made him look like an appropriate hire as a hospital janitor, leaving off his studies at Harvard and Brown. Terkel’s interviews with “real” working people helped the young activist place himself somewhat within a world of blue-collar workers, where he didn’t really belong. It’s an essay about disillusionment, the value of reading & writing, and yes, work.

Jennifer Niesslein explores why we write for free (some of us; many of us) in “The Price of Writing.” This is a complicated one, of course, and I think it’s important to note that the ability to write for free is a luxury afforded by some financial security. The writer she quotes as saying “I don’t need the exposure. What I need is to pay my fucking rent” (Nate Thayer, in New York magazine) has a fine point. Niesslein responds that “it can’t be about the money, at least not entirely.” I guess the implication is that if it’s going to be entirely about the money, then you need a day job.

But those are just the introductory pieces, responding to the theme in their own ways. Of the essays about making a living, I think my favorite has to be Kevin Haworth’s “Vivaldi,” which links the musicians who played in the orchestras at Auschwitz to the writer’s son, a passionate budding violinist for whom, happily, music will not be a matter of life and death. It is a powerful piece because of the high stakes of the historical thread, and the emotions in the current one, not to mention the larger issues that will continue to link the two. I also really appreciated Beth Tillman’s “Unleaving,” in which she discusses her career as an estate planning attorney, chosen because of her lifelong anxiety about death. I like the slightly different format she uses, and I empathize with her interest in end-of-life issues, and the day-to-day difficulties she relates.

I also continue to be distracted by both the story and the style of “No Exit,” by Karen Gentry. I will just share what Lee Gutkind wrote in his “What’s the Story?” editor’s column:

…Karen Gentry takes a temp job at a company that helps fired executives find new jobs. Part of her job involves giving Meyers-Briggs tests, and the story tells us a great deal about the corporate world and the way people in it can be reduced to types. But that’s also not at all what the story is about. (To tell you more would be to ruin it.)

I’ll leave it at that, as he did. It is a very fine essay.

Finally, “Tiny Truths” is always a treat: tweets using the tag #cnftweet will be considered for this ongoing contest, which features the best 140-character true stories on a revolving basis. I like that they choose not the flowery, poetic ones – that attempt too much language – but the ones that tell devastating or funny stories very, very simply.

Creative Nonfiction is always filled with greatness. You can read some of the content, or better yet, buy this issue here – or by all means consider a subscription. I don’t do much magazine reading because I’m so busy with BOOKS but this one is always worth my time, a gift in the mailbox.

2 Responses

  1. Dear Julia:

    Thank you for your comments about my essay. Very kind of you and it was a bright spot to know that it resonated with someone. I like your blog and will return to read more entries.

    Best wishes,
    Beth Tillman

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