The Meandering River: An Overview of the Subgenres of Creative Nonfiction
Sue William Silverman | September 2008
...compared to biography or autobiography,
an immersion essay or book gives the reader access
to a deeper, more emotionally authentic exploration
of the author's subject. This isn't a straight, factual recounting as with a journalist's
"who, what, when, where, and why" questions either.
The immersion writer guides the reader on an emotional as well as a factual journey.
The genre of creative nonfiction is a long river with many moods and currents. And even though it traverses waterscapes as diverse as the Mississippi, the Amazon, and the Nile, there are seven basic forms-or ports of call, if you will-which we might explore. At the head of the river lie the categories of biography and autobiography. From here, we flow on to immersion writing (or other forms of New Journalism) in which the author immerses him- or herself in an experience, before traveling on to memoir, to personal essay (including nature and travel writing), to the meditative essay, and finally spilling into the lyric essay. In brief, then, the river flows from a relatively exterior focus to an intensely interior one, from a focus on actions and events to one on ideas and emotions. While we begin with a fairly straightforward narrative, we end with one that's subverted or fractured. Yet because this river is a continuum, we'll also find that the ports of call are sometimes so close together that it's difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.
Port of Call #1: Biography
A case could be made that biography and autobiography should not be included in the genre of creative nonfiction; rather, that they are (or should be) strictly nonfiction, in the same tributary as academic and scholarly writing or journalism. However, given the inevitable subjectivity of the author toward his or her subject, as well as the fact that these two forms have such a long literary tradition, it would be difficult to begin our journey elsewhere.
Biography is a fairly consistent, factual rendering of someone's life, usually a chronological account of "first this happened and then this next thing happened." The author is supposed to be objective-although this isn't really possible. While being objective can be a worthy goal, it's a chimera, a necessary fiction. Lawrence Thompson's three-volume biography of Robert Frost is a good example of this subjectivity.
Thompson, Frost's authorized biographer, grew to dislike his subject, and allowed his aversion to become part of the text. Especially in the final volume of the biography, Thompson paints Frost as a man who, among other foibles, sees himself as a poet whose gifts to the world aren't fully appreciated. "He wanted the consultantship (in poetry to the Library of Congress) to be treated as an office in which his views would be listened to by the men who were running the country, and in which he could achieve significant results for his 'cause': poetry, the arts-and (not inconsequentially) his own reputation."1 The quotation marks around cause and the parenthetical insertion of "not inconsequentially," reveal Thompson's real, subjective feelings toward Frost.
More recently, the poet and novelist Jay Parini released his own Frost biography, with its own subjective elements, albeit different from Thompson's. Indeed, according to reviewer Melanie Kirkpatrick, "Parini is a fan of Frost's, and seeks, in Robert Frost: A Life, to dispel the mythos created by Thompson."2 I doubt Parini would disagree with that characterization, even though it suggests he, too, has an agenda.
In an interview with Paul Holler in the online journal Bookslut, Parini talks about his own expansive view of biography:
I make few distinctions between straight biographies and novels. They both are works of fiction. Fiction means "shaping" in Latin. I shape reality in both genres. There are demands that come from the genre itself: You can't really change points of view in a biography, and you can't make things up; but I think these are small considerations, and that in general they both involve creating narratives, and narrative is what I like: telling a story.3
Although Parini doesn't go so far as to actually "make things up," other biographers do. The most famous example is Edmund Morris's Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, in which Morris writes himself as a character into scenes where he was not present. Even though the reader knows Morris isn't physically present, nevertheless, wouldn't it be more honest for the author to admit up-front that objectivity is impossible to achieve? Have Morris, on the one hand (by re-imagining events in order to make elements of Reagan's life more immediate), and Parini and Thompson on the other (by having a subjective point of view), subverted the whole notion of nonfiction?
What's real, what's fact-what, in effect, is nonfiction-is a question our metaphorical river runs into again and again.
Port of Call #2: Autobiography
Autobiography is likewise, theoretically at least, a factual retelling of events. Like biography, autobiography is celebrity-driven (Elizabeth Taylor writes an autobiography; Ms. Ordinary Woman writes a memoir), based on one's "life of action," and thus told more historically than impressionistically-unlike a memoir. The "contract" with the reader, as such, is that the historical facts, at least, are true. For example, when President Clinton writes in his autobiography My Life that, after his re-election, the United States stopped enforcing the arms embargo in Bosnia, we believe him. Likewise, when he writes about his Middle Class Bill of Rights, we believe the particulars of the bill. After all, we could check these facts in newspapers. Where facts might be debatable, however, is when Clinton, say, subjectively analyzes the success (or failure) of his policies in order to enhance his presidential legacy.
Unlike biography, autobiography allows some room for personal reflection. In fact, when the private, personal life intrudes upon the public persona, autobiography hovers closer to memoir-for example, when Clinton depicts, albeit in very general terms, his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Yet even as he allows the reader a glimpse of the personal man, the glimpse is just that: there's little reflection or psychological analysis. Instead, he uses generic terms such as "inappropriate encounter" and "selfish stupidity."4 The deepest he explores a connection between the affair and a troubled childhood-which would be a gold mine for a memoirist-is to mention that, by keeping the affair secret, he once again lived parallel lives, much as he had as a teenager when his alcoholic stepfather abused his mother.
Since autobiography relies on a retelling of events as they happened, the Lewinsky affair is merely one stop along the way of the written life. In the paragraph following this relatively brief discussion about the affair, Clinton describes a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I had an inappropriate encounter with Monica Lewinsky. I met with Netanyahu. I addressed Congress. I flew to Ireland. Autobiography-unlike memoir, as we will see-tends toward both a certain documentary sensibility and a well-defined chronological structure. Also, since the goal of the celebrity autobiographer is usually to place him- or herself in a positive light, it's frequently not a search for moral or emotional truths or psychological insight.
Port of Call #3: Immersion
In the immersion essay or book, the author, as the name implies, immerses him- or herself in an experience typically outside of his or her familiar milieu. Immersion writers use the voice of an engaged participant, one who writes in first person, sets scenes, employs sensory description, and structures the work with an arc-as opposed to the flatter, more linear voice of a journalist who "merely" covers a story.
There are two basic ways to approach the immersion book or essay.
In the first, the author is the protagonist, thus maintaining a strong, consistent "I" throughout, as in Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America. Ehrenreich investigates how the working class survives on the minimum wage, or worse. Rather than rely on interviews, research, labor reports and statistics-as a journalist would-she herself works such low-paying jobs as waitress and cleaning woman. She is in the story; she's part of it. She writes of her experiences with direct and intimate knowledge.
In the second method, the author also writes in the first-person point of view, but isn't as literally a participant in the story. Instead, the author deals with a broader context or more distant experience. For example, in King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Adam Hochschild obviously couldn't participate in colonial events that subjugated the Belgian Congo. Nevertheless, through documents, research, interviews, and trips to the area, he immerses his emotional and psychic self into the events as much as possible. He writes with a clearly subjective regard for the events, as opposed to the dispassionate voice of an academic or journalist, or the more objective view of a biographer. Hear his voice when he first learns of the Congo's "killing fields" in a book he just happened to be reading: "Why were these deaths not mentioned in the standard litany of...horrors? And why had I never heard of them? I had been writing about human rights for years."5 It was an "atrocious scandal," Hochschild continues, using language such as "blood spilled in anger" and "torn flesh."6 Just as Ehrenreich empathizes with those who struggle to survive on the minimum wage, Hochschild immerses himself in the terror of King Leopold's reign.
In the following short section from Hochschild's essay "Isle of Flowers, House of Slaves," we see how, through careful selection of detail as well as the first-person point of view, he manages to immerse both himself and the reader in the action.
These days few spots are purely in the Third World or the First. In Dakar, Senegal, the sun-drenched, crumbling one-time colonial capital of French West Africa, bits of Europe are scattered...like an archipelago. The First World islands are sleek (with) high-rise resort hotels.... Virtually all the guests are white. In...bars...a liter bottle of Vittel mineral water costs the equivalent of several days' wages for a Senegalese laborer....
Farther down (the) road, iron fences have gaps in them; coils of barbed wire on top have half rusted away.... As I jog along the road early one morning, men are urinating in the street, getting up after sleeping the night in the ruins of buildings....7
Even though this essay is more about Dakar than about Hochschild (he doesn't refer to himself until the second paragraph, more or less in passing, "(as) I jog along..."), his presence, nevertheless, is felt throughout. He is the guide between these two worlds. His slant on the details reveals as much about his sensibilities as it does about Dakar. It's wrong for some to have so much while others have so little, he implies.
Therefore, compared to biography or auto-biography, an immersion essay or book gives the reader access to a deeper, more emotionally authentic exploration of the author's subject. This isn't a straight, factual recounting as with a journalist's "who, what, when, where, and why" questions either. The immersion writer guides the reader on an emotional as well as a factual journey.
It is also worth noting the distinction between immersion and personal essays. In the latter, authors don't tend to stray far from their own habitats or familiar emotional landscapes. In immersion writing, as shown, the author usually immerses him- or herself in an environment quite distinct from his or her "normal" life: Ehrenreich is not a minimum-wage worker; Hochschild examines the Belgian Congo from the vantage point of another century. One of the early works of New Journalism is Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback by George Plimpton, who "joined" the Detroit Lions football team to discover what it was like to be a professional football player-and then write about it. In short, unlike the personal essayist (whom we'll explore in a moment), the author immerses him- or herself in "events" solely to write about them.
Port of Call #4: Memoir
Midpoint on our metaphorical river is the memoir, the subgenre most people associate with creative nonfiction, since it most obviously employs many of the same techniques we encounter in fiction: dialogue, setting, character development, plot, and metaphor. In the forms already explored, the text generally follows a relatively straightforward, chronological recounting of events; here, however, the story begins to find a more personal, emotional arc to follow. Unlike biography and autobiography, a memoir isn't about a whole life but, rather, one aspect of it. It's imperative that the author establish her, or his, clearly defined theme and focus.
What also distinguishes memoir from autobiography is the use of at least two "voices" to tell the story, to explore the depth of events: one I call an "innocent" voice, the other an "experienced" voice-to borrow from William Blake.
The innocent voice relates the facts of the story, the surface subject, the action-not altogether unlike autobiography. It conveys the experience of the relatively unaware persona the author was when the events actually happened. Whether the events are loosely connected by chronology or not, this voice gives the story a sense of "this happened, and then this happened, and then this next thing happened." It is the action, the external part of the story.
The experienced voice, on the other hand, plunges us deeper into the story by employing metaphor, irony, and reflection to reveal the author's progression of thought and emotion. It reveals what the facts mean, both intellectually and emotionally. Reflection is not just looking back, recollecting, or remembering the past. It's a search to see past events or relationships in a new light. The experienced voice conveys a more complex viewpoint, one that interprets and reflects upon the surface subject.
Whether the memoir is essay- or book-length, both voices are crucial: One thrusts the story forward; the other plunges the reader into the real heart of the matter. As these voices intersect throughout the memoir, the author reveals the true nature of the journey.
Lisa D. Chavez's essay, "Independence Day, Manley Hot Springs, Alaska," begins with the innocent voice-the narrator describing how, in 1975, she and her mother depart southern California for Alaska seeking a new life. This voice describes the wonders of Manley Hot Springs as seen through the eyes of a twelve-year-old girl:
Instantly I am occupied, walking our dog, wetting the toes of my canvas tennis shoes in the silty current, kicking sprays of gravel into the air. I narrate the scene to myself, add it to the elaborate and constant story I whisper of my adventures in Alaska.8
Interspersed with the ongoing story is the experienced voice, the adult author-persona who now understands: "I do not see what is in front of me: a shabby small town where people stare openly at that frivolous car-bright orange and marked by its out-of-state plates-and the young woman in white, high-heeled sandals and her daughter that have emerged from it."9 In addition to the "experienced" voice that can describe the car as "frivolous," Chavez employs subtle metaphorical imagery here as well. By including the detail of the bright orange car, she implicitly compares it to the clothing hunters wear. However, as she goes on to show, she is the hunted, not the hunter. She is, as she so accurately says, "marked." She, like the car, is the other.
This is clearly revealed when the narrator's young self experiences racial hatred. Late one evening, Lisa's mother asks her to walk the dog, and as she leaves their rented room above a bar, she is confronted by a man on the landing pointing a gun at her. "'I told all you goddamn Indians to get the fuck out of my bar,' he says."10
In the following paragraphs, the two voices twine together, the innocent voice narrating how she escapes the man, and the experienced voice reflecting upon the event: "I thought (racism) was something else, people who called black people bad names, people who snickered when they heard my last name. Mexican, they'd sneer...."11 Chavez, the author-narrator, deepens the moment even more: "And now I have been shaken into a world I don't understand, a cold, foreign world, where men I don't know can hate me for the way I look."12 This voice of experience continues to explore her place in the world when she reflects how, in California, her darker skin was envied. There, she even secretly felt "superior." In Alaska, however, "brown skin did not mean beach and health, but it meant something...shameful.... Native.... I would discover how that word could be spit out with as much disgust as any racial slur."13
Because memoir is an examination of self, Chavez's persona at the end of the essay is different from her persona at the beginning. By the end, Chavez comes to understand fear; she sees herself and her world through less innocent eyes. "In just a few years...I would learn to put a name to what was happening to me, and learn to be angry.... Even later, I would learn to mold my anger into something I could use."14
The lessons learned in memoir aren't as evident in autobiography. In autobiography, the author may no longer be president of the United States or a box-office attraction, yet emotionally, he or she hasn't necessarily changed-at least on the page. With rare exceptions, autobiography isn't about exploring the subject's psyche. Memoir is. Autobiography isn't about turning a life into art. Memoir is. The autobiographer justifies "mistakes." The memoirist explores them. The autobiographer focuses on success while the memoirist tries to decipher how or why life events often go wrong. Memoir, therefore, is not a simple narcissistic examination of self-as some critics claim. By employing many of the same techniques as fiction, poetry, and belle lettres, memoir achieves universality.
Also, unlike autobiography, memoir relies almost solely on memory. Memoirists may research old letters, conduct interviews with family members, and examine family documents and photographs, but the reliance on one's subjective perceptions of the past is at the heart of memoir. Whereas autobiography tells the story of "what happened" based on historical facts, memoir examines why it happened, what the story means.
In terms of memoir, the reader understands and accepts this tacit contract that retrieving "facts" from memory is both a selective and subjective business. Yet, at the same time, a reader doesn't "allow" the memoirist to lie or make up facts willy-nilly. As Patricia Hampl says about critics' reactions to memoirs, "...they're so assured that there is a thing called a 'fact' and that it can be found like a lost sock, and that once you've found it that's all you've got to do, state a fact. I think that misrepresents entirely the way the faculty of memory works."15
In short, subjective memory is acceptable, while pure invention isn't.
Port of Call #5: Personal Essay
Whereas memoir is a "slice of a life," the author of a personal essay examines an even slimmer piece of that life or, if you will, a single bend in the river. Personal essays encompass such topics as nature and travel, or social and political issues. Whereas memoir is an exploration of the past, personal essays can explore contemporary-even future-events. Instead of the memoirist's thorough examination of self, soul, or psyche, the personal essayist usually explores one facet of the self within a larger social context.
Memoirs and personal essays do have some things in common, however. In both genres, the author imbues his or her work with a strong personal point of view. In addition, personal essayists, like memoirists, usually don't stray far afield from their own habitats or ways of life. Unlike immersion essayists, who seek to immerse themselves in unfamiliar subject matter, personal essayists tend to write about what they already know well. Annie Dillard, for example, writes about Tinker Creek, close to her home in Virginia, a habitat she knows intimately. Dillard, like many nature writers such as Edward Abbey, Farley Mowat, and Terry Tempest Williams, are already naturalists and environmentalists by inclination.
In her essay "The Molino," Melani Martinez explores her culture, her way of life, by focusing on the molino-a machine that grinds corn for tamales-as the embodiment of her cultural world. We read three long paragraphs about this "grinder in the back of this old worn-down garage turned kitchen"16 before we directly "meet" the narrator herself. We smell and hear the machine and understand its impact on her particular world.
It fills the room with its smell. A burning cloud. A grinding stone. It eats corn.... It gobbles it and changes it to something else. To money, to food, to questions and lifestyles. It prepares children for the rest of what will come.... It is a father. It is a dirty smelly father that works and works and pushes and shoves out the meat of little kernels of corn.17
When the narrator finally appears, we learn it is her father who owns and operates the molino; this is her environment, in which others may live but cannot describe: "I watched it all," she writes. "The lime-covered caldron of boiling nixtamal and the oar he stirred it with were even older than him.... All the food and all the people and time that went by in that little garage kitchen."18 This kitchen is a neighborhood gathering place, where news and gossip are exchanged. In addition, most of the extended family work at the molino, including the author, as a child. "My father subjected (me) to child labor before (I) knew how to spell it."19 By focusing on the molino, Martinez crafts it as a metaphor for the grind of eking out a living in the tamale business in a particular culture and time.
Of course, as Martinez explores the molino and what it represents, we have a strong sense of the author's personal sensibilities: "We (Martinez and her brother) paced the floor of that old garage dreaming of school days as the bottom of our tennis shoes stuck to the grime. Other than the corn, everything was black and filmed with...fat.... It was hot, it was humid, and for us there was no greater hell."20 As in a memoir, therefore, a personal essay reflects upon the author's experiences. Yet, instead of examining solely herself, Martinez allows the molino, as an object and as a metaphor, to reveal the secrets it holds for her family as well as for her culture.
Unlike biography, autobiography allows some room
for personal reflection. In fact, when the private,
personal life intrudes upon the public persona,
autobiography hovers closer to memoir...
Port of Call #6: Meditative Essay
A meditative essay, as the name suggests, explores or meditates upon an emotion or idea by drawing upon a range of experience. It's a contemplation. Unlike the previous forms, the meditative essay is not necessarily triggered by a specific event. For example, Hochschild's essay begins when he visits Dakar; Chavez's essay starts with the move to Alaska. Such events aren't necessary in meditative essays. Instead, an image or an idea may propel it into being.
There are two ways to approach a meditative essay.
The first way is to examine an idea or emotion by embodying it, making it physical. Let's say someone you love has just died. The loss seems so big that you want to explore the whole notion of "loss"-not just one specific loss. In order to do so, you must discover objects that embody an otherwise abstract emotion. The abstractions must be rendered tangibly. You must discover images or metaphors to embody the ineffable.
The second way to approach a meditative essay is to begin at the opposite end of the spectrum, with the tangible thing itself. But to consider a physical object deeply, one must uncover properties hidden within the object. Consider a jar of peanut butter. You might begin by describing the label. But then, as you continue writing, you will open the jar, tangibly and metaphorically, to discover what's inside. It's like unwrapping a present. What do you find inside? Peanut butter, of course! But to meditate upon an object, you must discover more, something suggested by the object, something that's not just personal experience, rather, some existential or cultural or social or political insight about peanut butter. John Updike does this in his essay "Beer Can," which is a funny, insightful meditation on the often maddeningly, impersonal onslaught of "progress."
Robert Vivian's essay "Light Calling to Other Light" provides another example. It begins with a physical candle, before journeying into the abstract notions of joy and belonging. He writes:
Lately, I have started to push a wide, yellow candle into sunlight.... I move it...to capture the light and to hold it for a while. Then its entire fat body glows from within in a rich, mellow flame, like an improbable Buddha who is dining on the universe. Aglow on the table, it is an homage to light for light's sake.21
By the end, he writes of the metaphorical warmth of a candle holding him "in a calm embrace in the duration of the sun passing from morning into darkness."22 The reader sees that the tangible quality of "light," within the "improbable Buddha," is, metaphorically, the discovery of joy within gloom, which is the theme of this meditation.
In short, the abstract idea needs a tangible body; the tangible object needs a soul. In the meditative essay, we see the ascendancy of the narrative of image over the narrative of action-a trend that has its roots in the personal essay (think of the imagistic metaphor of Martinez's molino). Here it is the image that drives the work, creating meaning and forming the narrative arc.
Port of Call #7: Lyric Essay
In the lyric essay, as in the meditative essay, the writer is not constrained by a narrative of action; the movement is from image to image, not from event to event. Here, the psyche works more in the mode of poets who "let what will stick to them like burrs where they walk in the fields,"23 to quote Robert Frost. (Parini's good poet, not Thompson's bad one.)
In John D'Agata's "Hall of Fame of Us/Hall of Fame of Them," the very arrangement of words on the page suggests poetry:
Ergo the town.
Ergo, also, the fence.
Most of Rachel, Nevada, lives near this fence.
Come dusk, at the Little Ale'Inn, the town gets drunk on talk about the fence.24
The images propel the essay forward, moving from the town, to the fence, to the people, to talk about the fence. The rhythm of this movement, a rhythm created by the short paragraphs and the elliptical storyline, make the essay seem more like verse than prose. In fact, one reason writers use this form is to explore the boundary between essay and lyric poetry. As D'Agata himself writes in the Seneca Review, lyric essays, like poems, "require us to complete their meaning.... The lyric essay doesn't care about figuring out why papa lost the farm, or why mama took to drink. It's more interested in replicating the feeling of that experience."25
In this kind of elliptical writing, not all facts are neatly spelled out, understood, or resolved. The reader is required to fill in the blanks as much as possible while, at the same time, accepting that much will remain mysterious. As with poetry, the reader accepts the emotion of the piece itself as the essential "fact." The accumulation of images forms an emotional whole, if not a traditionally essayistic one.
Toward the Sea
Creative nonfiction is all of the above, and more. Elements of two or more of the subgenres discussed can be combined to create "hybrid" genres as well. In many ways, for example, "The Molino," while at heart a personal essay, also includes elements of memoir in the way the author notes the impact of the molino on her life. At the same time, long passages about the molino itself are reminiscent of a meditative chant.
Myriad experimental structures exist in creative nonfiction as well. For the adventurous, anything goes. Memoirs and essays can be written as montages or mosaics. Harvey Pekar's American Splendor series of "graphic memoirs" helps redefine "comic books," while the film version of his life uses documentary to deconstruct the usual Hollywood cliches. In Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness, Robin Hemley incorporates short stories both by himself and his mother, as well as his sister's letters and artwork, into his own creative nonfiction text.
Pat Mora, in House of Houses, relies on poetic language and magical realism. Reading her work, we feel as if every member of her family, alive and dead, are all present, talking together. Marjane Satrapi, in Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, tells her story about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution through a series of black-and-white illustrations, while Lawrence Sutin, in A Postcard Memoir, uses postcards, reproduced in the text, as portals into memory.
Waters Ebb and Flow
So, you're in the middle of writing something, but you don't know what. Is it memoir? A meditative piece? "How do I decide," you ask.
Just as bodies of water all have a common element, so does creative nonfiction. As we have seen, the distinctions among these subgenres frequently blur. Therefore, the differences are more in terms of degree than kind. For example, memoirs, personal essays, and meditations can all contain similar elements such as employing one voice that relates the story, twined with another voice deepening it, metaphorically.
Yet, as with water-some being fresh, some salty-there are differences in creative nonfiction. In autobiography, immersion writing, memoirs, and personal narratives, an action drives the work. The arc is that of you, your persona, seeking to understand this action. This kind of essay falls more along an axis of action, a series of events you are following like a map of a river.
In a meditative or lyric essay, on the other hand, an idea or emotion drives the work. You seek to give shape to a thought or idea, making the intangible tangible. These essays fall more along an axis of contemplation, whereby images form a constellation. So while you may not be moving forward in time, you're moving deeper into the metaphorical river.
Whatever port of the river you decide to explore, I hope you'll enjoy the journey.
Sue William Silverman's first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You (University of Georgia Press), won the AWP award series in creative nonfiction, and her second memoir is Love Sick: One Woman's Journey Through Sexual Addiction (Norton). Her poetry collection, Hieroglyphics in Neon, was published by Orchises Press. An associate editor of Fourth Genre, she teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts (www.suewilliamsilverman.com).
Thompson, Lawrence. Robert Frost (New York: Henry Holt, 1966), p. 474.
- Kirkpatrick, Melanie. "Robert Frost: A Life." www.Pifmagazine.com, August 1, 1999.
- Holler, Paul. "An Interview with Jay Parini." www.bookslut.com, April, 2006.
- Clinton, Bill. My Life (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), p. 774.
- Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998).
- Hochschild, Adam. "Isle of Flowers, House of Slaves." Finding the Trapdoor (Syracuse: University of Syracuse Press, 1997).
- Chavez, Lisa D. "Independence Day, Manley Hot Springs, Alaska." Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction Spring 2000: 72.
- Ibid., p. 72.
- Ibid., p. 74.
- Ibid., p. 75.
- Ibid., p. 75.
- Ibid., p. 77.
- Ibid., p. 78.
- Hampl, Patricia. "We Were Such a Generation-Memoir, Truthfulness, and History." River Teeth Spring 2004: 129â€“142.
- Martinez, Melani. "The Molino." Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction Spring 2005: 1â€“8.
- Vivian, Robert. "Light Calling to Other Light." Cold Snap as Yearning (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), p. 105.
- Ibid., p. 109.
- Cox, Hyde, and Edward Connery Lathem, eds. Selected Prose of Robert Frost (New York: Collier Books, 1949), p. 20.
- D'Agata, John. "Hall of Fame of Us/Hall of Fame of Them." Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction Spring 2000: 31â€“37.
- D'Agata, John. "Finding Love at Thirty." Seneca Review Spring 2000: 5â€“11.
Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (New York: Harper Perennial, 1998).
- Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001).
- Hemley, Robin. Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness (St. Paul: Graywolf, 1998).
- Mora, Pat. House of Houses (Boston: Beacon, 1998).
- Morris, Edmund. Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan (New York: Random House, 1999).
- Parini, Jay. Robert Frost: A Life (New York: Henry Holt, 1999).
- Pekar, Harvey. American Splendor (New York: Ballantine, 2003).
- Plimpton, George. Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback (New York: Pocket Books, 1967).
- Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (New York: Pantheon, 2004).
- Sutin, Lawrence. A Postcard Memoir (St. Paul: Graywolf, 2003).