Lit Mag Reading Club chat for Pacifica Review
Great post, Becky. This: "Pacifica Review does not distinguish between fiction and nonfiction, putting both under the category of “prose.” I’ll be curious to know the editorial choice behind this." All praise, Pacifica Review! I think the genre hangup is mostly pure crap, something created by the capitalist system to divide and conquer. A *really important magazine* was on the bring of accepting one of my pieces, but demanded to know if it were nonfiction or fiction and when I refused to say, they said no. Why did I refuse? Because it was a bit of both and what difference would it have made to the reader if it were one thing or another? Truth lies in all kinds of writing, so unless we're reporting from Ukraine or writing history, genre in literature is pure subjective bunkum, in my opinion. I recently dared confronting an important agent about his belief that English-language readers are not interested in what he calls "conflict fiction". I explained to him that great literature is great literature and appeals or fails based on how well it portrays the human condition, not on some kind of made up genre. And anyway, if work from countries that have suffered generations of conflict is all rejected as work in translation because it's "conflict fiction", we will never hear from those writers! Amiright? Thanks again for another excellent post.
I like how small and cozy this issue is, and the navigability is user-friendly. I used to run a publication and my issues tended to be rather large, which, I imagine, is overwhelming for anyone to go through, it was overwhelming for me to create each issue. Overtime, they became smaller and included a variety of works, including art, playlists, et cetera. Then I started publishing works blog-style, with a few posts per week. I highly recommend anyone running a publication either to keep your issues small or publish works in a type of blog.
I joined the Zoom Q&A with Pacifica Literary Review's Matt Muth today. This is my first participation in Lit Mag Reading Club. I appreciated reading the online issue, your own detailed review and your questions today, Becky, as well as the questions from the participants. It's such a good way to learn about a lit mag I knew virtually nothing about! I look forward to tomorrow's Q&A and hope to read/attend as many as I can of these Zoom Q&As in the future. Thank you so much for this offering, Becky!
I agree with Bruce that the categories of nonfiction and fiction should be preserved. Sure, all categories are merely constructs, and the two genres often overlap (especially when it comes to memoir). Yet the two diverge from the point of conception, the allegiance of the fiction writer being to the story, that of the nonfiction writer being to their lived experience. The fiction writer opens out to the world of possibility (Flannery O'Connor said fiction begins where knowledge leaves off), while the nonfiction writer looks closely at what already is. (Tim O'Brien contrasts the "story truth" of fiction with the "happening truth" of nonfiction.) Ultimately, do the two merge? Well, sure, everything ULTIMATELY becomes part of the same oozing blob of existence, but in the meantime, I hope we don't, during these increasingly wanton days, abandon distinctions that are useful, for both reader and writer, distinctions that actually enhance creativity rather than hamper it.
I haven’t read this lit mag, and I probably wouldn’t anyway. I hate magazines that don’t distinguish between fiction and nonfiction. The two genres are completely different disciplines that require the use of different muscles by the writer. And it’s unfair to ask the reader to take the journey through a piece without knowing whether they are in the world of lived experience or pure imagination.
Great post. One critique of it though: the opioid “crisis” resulted from people taking opioids they were not prescribed. That is, criminals. And those criminals ALONE are responsible for pain patients, even cancer patients being unable to receive the treatment they NEED. A huge part of the crisis is now that to stay alive, people have to move to illegal substances or kill themselves if in severe chronic pain.
I just hate when people don’t read studies right and conflate pieces of data that are not related in the least.
That’s the opportunity he missed and I do agree with you on that!
Love this newsletter!
Great post - - and this is why we gather around the blazing fire pit of Becky's words. As to why Pacifica Review (or anyone) does not distinguish between fiction and nonfiction, I say, "Well done!" I am so tired of those post-modern bio-notes spilling over with T.M.I. . . . . . Is it only me? . . . . Am I jaded by my lifelong habit of subscribing to literary journals strictly to enjoy the writing styles, the sprezzatura of rhetorical finesse, the ideas shared, that I long for the bygone era of LITTLE to ZERO personal details in a bio-note beyond where an author published / went to school / grants and awards won? (The only personal detail I would share in a bio-note is "native New Yorker." What else must you know? Are we dating? Is this Tinder - - or a respected niche poetry journal? Are you waiting, breathlessly, to finish my poem in order to know if my bio-note will reveal I smoke, if I'm single, if I own frogs, and if I'm accomplished in the art of ikebana? Was any of that required info for my bylined piece? Probably not?) Rant over. . . . . . . . Oh, wait, there's more! . . . . . . I do not introduce my poems with more than 5 words. If you're used to reading at the microphone in Manhattan, you already know the impatient audience will be filled with loud hecklers who'll yell, "Just read the effing poem already!" [Thank you from all of us, Steve Cannon. #RIP] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . But now I have a secret reason, too: I absolutely do not want the audience to know ahead of time if my wilder and wilder poems are "fiction" or "nonfiction." . . . . . . . . . . . And so, thank you from all of us, Pacifica Literary Review, for doing your part to fight this ruinous trend of T.M.I. that has been the invasive kudzu vine of modern times.
Hmmmmm i thought he waffled on that topic all the way—it’s so interesting that book!
For me, anything that reads like it could be dramatized on stage or screen feels like it’s adapting to a fictional form. So Becky’s column above is definitely nonfiction, since I can’t imagine any way you could dramatize it (nor would you want that).
But something like Joan Didion’s 1966 “journalistic” piece for the Saturday Evening Post, “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream,” feels like fiction, feels like a movie, from the opening sentence, which you can almost hear in voiceover: “This is a story about love and death in the golden land, and begins with the country.”
When you dramatize something, you’re halfway to fiction, since life so seldom has that familiar dramatic arc. As Didion also said, “there is no narrative line to events.”