CNF Mixology: A look at cross and multiplatform nonfiction storytelling panels at NonfictioNOW in Flagstaff

by Angele’ Anderfuren

Creative nonfiction (CNF) has branched out significantly in recent years from its humble essay beginnings and is now far more than text on a page. Sometimes CNF can also be performance art, video essay, a radio story, a graphic story even graphic memoirs are now available. And it can be several media platforms at once too. So it should be no surprise that NonfictioNOW has panels covering all these forms of CNF. Here’s a look at the multiplatform topic panels you can look forward to attending. (The descriptions below come directly from their submitted précis.)

Mixed Media Memoir – 10/29 – 9-10:15a – Fremont
Amy Silverman, Rebecca Fish Ewan, Deborah Sussman Susser
This panel focuses on mixed media work, especially personal storytelling that balances humor and hard truths. The panelists bend genres and blend media to convey life stories through cartoons, free verse, spoken word, journalism, editing, teaching, and performance coordination. The commonality in their work is seeing humor in the struggle of being human, finding companionship, and building community. They endeavor to make life lighter without making light of it. Their recent work includes a combination of poetry and cartoons to create a memoir of childhood friendship shattered by murder, writing as a mother of a child with Down syndrome, and work in the art of editing and teaching focused on the experiences of motherhood. The panelists will share how blended genres and media can help storytellers take on challenging subjects with authenticity and in their own true voice.

Of Visual Essayistics – 10/29 – 9-10:15a – Agassiz
Denise Gonzales Crisp, Gail Swanlund, Ben Van Dyke, Joshua Unikel
As soon as language is highly visual, we call it almost everything but nonfiction. We call it “visual poetics” or “text art,” “design” or  “book art.” But why don’t we call it nonfiction or essay? And why, when we discuss visuality in the genre, do we so often close the conversation at graphic memoirs? What about the inexorably visual essayistics of Mary Ruefle’s Little White Shadow or Kamau Brathwaite’s Trench Town Rock? How can the visuality in work like Stefan Mallarme’s A Roll of the Dice or Steve Bowden’s Broadsheet be read as an essay or nonfiction? How can we as essayists use graphic design and typography to generate more multifaceted works of nonfiction? These questions and many more will be tackled by four makers whose work is sometimes called “visual essay,” “text-as-image art,” “experimental design,” “typographic installation,” and “meditative book art.”

Performing the Essay – 10/29 – 4-5:15p – Doyle
Peta Murray, Francesca Rendle-Short, Sophie Cunningham, Lucinda Strahan, Papatya Bucak
How do we perform the essay? Or, essay the performance? This panel takes up the challenge of presenting the essay as play, mischief, whimsy and idiosyncrasy as a staged act, where ‘performers’ expose their vulnerabilities and intellectual securities (a la Jeff Porter). Noëlle Janaczewska presents a duet of sorts, including a short performance essay about the nature of home, and recent research into plant sentience and memory. Peta Murray queers the essay by developing a notion of ‘essayesque dismemoir’. Francesca Rendle-Short experiments with the idea of drawing the body as performance, thinking here of desire: ‘I ask of writing what I ask of desire’ (Cixous). Sophie Cunningham sees the performance of walking as a form of pilgrimage; even without political intentions walking becomes, as writing is, a political act. All four writers enact content through form: it is in the doing that we become – in the performance that we are.

Making (Radio) Waves – 10/30 – 4-5:15p – Fremont
Nancy Barry, April Lidinsky, Ken Smith
At a time when the multi-episode podcast “Serial” dominates the conversation about radio nonfiction, we assert the place of brevity. This panel examines the craft of the three or four-minute radio essay.
Four panelists with many years of experience creating public radio essays will use audio and text examples to explore the form. In so few words, how do writers create an engaging voice and evoke experiences richly enough to provide pleasure for listeners? How do they find a clear and inventive organization that will produce a measure of emotion and insight by the end?
What counts as authority in short pieces meant for broad audiences? What is the role of personal experience in this public genre? How can environmental sounds, music, and other audio effects work with the text? How do writers adapt their sentences for listeners who may hear the words only once?

Mix It Up – 10/31 – 9-10:15a – Fremont
Matt Batt, Paisley Rekdal, Jacob Paul, Dylan Keefe
Ask a musician, playwright, or filmmaker about the notion of collaboration or hybridity in art and, since the practice is so perfectly ubiquitous to them, you’ll likely receive nothing more than a flat stare in response. Until recently, ask a writer that same question, however, and you’re only likely to get positive feedback if given writer is willing to out him/herself as a card-carrying member of the avant garde. But is this still the case? This panel discussion will focus on bringing together writers and artists who celebrate collaboration and hybridity in print as well as other media—some new, some old—such as photography, film, blogs, wikis, video games, and radio. Considering the monuments of earlier collaboration in nonfiction such as James Agee and Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men as well as more recent texts like Didier Lefevre, Emmanuel Guibert, and Frederic Lemercier’s The Photographer, panelists will discuss how collaboration works in their favorite hybrid texts as well as how they collaborate with others in their own hybridized work. Additionally, the conversation of this panel will pursue not only the objectives and benefits of collaborative nonfiction, but also the logistics and the pitfalls, such as when you are no longer the master of your own schedule or when progress on your work is impeded by your collaborator’s difference of opinion or vision. Ultimately, however, this panel will celebrate hybridity and collaboration and strive to take a look at the ways in which writers and artists have worked together as well as look forward to the emerging ways in which we will collaborate in the future.

Angele’ is a student in NAU’s Creative Writing MFA program. She will be live tweeting from NonfictioNow during all the panels she attends. Follow her on Twitter @AngeleOutWest.

CNF Mixology: A look at cross and multiplatform nonfiction storytelling panels at NonfictioNOW in Flagstaff

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