Around 1990, I was doing some graduate work at California State University when I was sidetracked by the then new genre of creative nonfiction. I immediately thought the term ridiculous. I was raised in literary circles to believe things were either true or false. But it soon hit me. Nonfiction is about perception. If two people witness an auto accident, and one swears the car ran the red light, while the other swears the light was green, absent lies, it is perception. Concluding the light must have been amber is fallacious. Nevertheless, I began to relate the concept of creative nonfiction to my memoir. Was my story false simply because I called Hugo by a different name? Apparently, the lawyers never stepped over dead bodies as we did. They missed the starving children begging beneath the columns of the Presidential Palace.
Shortly thereafter, I re-read Ernest Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast. From this classic work, we learn much about the relationship between Papa and literary greats such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound. Flipping through the initial pages, I learned that Hemingway endured the same aggravation I did with my memoir – the fiction disclaimer: “This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.” Poppycock! Of course, winning the Nobel Prize for literature might entice the public to purchase Hemingway’s memoir, even with the fiction tab. I also know Ernie did not stand for it. In his now famous Preface to A Moveable Feast, he states, “If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.”
Today, writers and publishers are divided on the genre of creative non-fiction. I am not qualified to break the tie, but I believe it was Ernie who invented the concept thirty years before the phrase was coined. About the same time my publisher’s lawyer was born.