A Post-Conference Creative Nonfiction Reading List

by Shaun Hunter

There wasn’t much time for reading at last weekend’s Creative Nonfiction Collective conference, but I carried a pile of books home with me: several wonderful new essay collections, and Judy McFarlane’s Writing with Grace: A Journey Beyond Down Syndrome.

I also brought home scribbled notes of things I want to read, and, in some cases, re-read. Here are a few of the titles at the top of my list, in no particular order:

The Art of the Essay, Lydia Fakundiny

This out-of-print book pre-dates Phillip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay by three years. Joanna Eleftheriou, the bright young scholar who led a session on the lyric essay with her University of Missouri colleague Lauren Fath, told me there is gold in this important collection.

An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery, Janna Malamud Smith

I inhaled Smith’s wonderful book last year. When Jane Silcott told me she was reading An Absorbing Errand on the flight to Calgary, I realized I need to re-read the book; this time, more slowly.

“A Braided Heart: Shaping the Lyric Essay,” by Brenda Miller in Writing Creative Nonfiction, Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard, eds.

My copy of Miller’s classic craft essay is covered with marginalia, but there is room for more. Miller shows us the lyric essay from the inside. Here’s a taste of where she's going: “We’ve entered a realm of unknowing, a place where definitions are constantly in flux, a place where answers are not as important as the questions to which they give rise.”

The Girl in Saskatoon, Sharon Butala

I’ve read Butala’s memoir, The Perfection of the Morning, but I haven’t kept up with her recent nonfiction. At the conference plenary, Communicating with the Dead, Butala said that even though the deceased are constantly reaching out to writers, they are “ultimately unknowable.” I’m curious to find out how she navigates this landscape in The Girl in Saskatoon.

Madeline Sonik’s upcoming essay in the summer edition of The Malahat Review

At the end of Sonik’s excellent talk about crossing genres, she shared an anecdote about her soon-to-be-published essay concerning the poet Ted Hughes. Time to subscribe to The Malahat Review. A side trip back to Sonik’s Afflictions and Departures is probably in order, too.

Nocturne: On the Life and Death of My Brother, Helen Humphreys

My reader’s rule: after three creative nonfiction writers rave about a book, it’s time to find out what they’re talking about.

Renovating Heaven, Andreas Schroeder

Canadian writers call Andreas Schroeder the “godfather of creative nonfiction.” At CNFC, we honour him as one of our founders. Renovating Heaven is Schroeder’s autobiographical novel. I can't wait to read it.

The Concubine’s Children, Denise Chong

I read Denise Chong’s first book too long ago. At her session this weekend, my pen couldn't move fast enough to capture all of the gems Chong shared. Here is one I caught that continues to hum: “Turn every surprise into your advantage.” I may wait until August and get myself a new copy, when The Concubine’s Children is issued as a Penguin Modern Classic.

That's my creative nonfiction reading list for this spring. What's yours?