✏️🛠️ A Q&A with Lee Gutkind, 'Godfather' of Creative Nonfiction, on the Fine Line Between Truth and Fabrication
The author, professor and founder of "Creative Nonﬁction" magazine talks about his latest book on the history of the genre, and pushing the limits of storytelling.
As soon as he logs on to our Zoom call, Lee Gutkind breaks the ice by saying, “Look what we did!” He’s talking about partnering with Narratively. Last year, when I was working as Narratively’s editorial and development assistant, I sent Lee a cold email to see if Creative Nonfiction would share one of our stories. What resulted was a collaboration we’re very excited about and that you’ll be hearing about soon, but no spoilers yet 😉. So, his opener was far better than what I was planning as an icebreaker — some variation of, “So… how’s your day been so far? Staying warm?”
Few writers have led the literary life that Lee Gutkind has. Dubbed “the Godfather behind creative nonfiction” by Vanity Fair, Lee was one of the first people to teach creative nonfiction at the university level, create a track for it at an MFA program and give the genre what’s now a household name. Lee has mentored countless students as a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and as a distinguished writer-in-residence at Arizona State University, launched the literary journal Creative Nonfiction more than 30 years ago and published 14 books of his own creative nonfiction, as well as edited seven anthologies of essays.
In his latest book, The Fine Art of Literary Fist-Fighting: How a Bunch of Rabble-Rousers, Outsiders, and Ne’er-do-wells Concocted Creative Nonfiction, Lee tells the history of creative nonfiction as it’s never been told before, detailing everything from new journalism — the literary genre pioneered by writers like Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote and Gay Talese that pushed the boundaries of traditional journalism — to his personal foray into creative nonfiction (and Creative Nonfiction!), to the academic backlash he faced while trying to get the genre accepted into the literary zeitgeist. (Check out Narratively’s excerpt from the book, in which Lee talks about his early discovery of life-changing literature, here!) I was thrilled to be able to sit down with Lee to discuss all of this, and to hear his thoughts about how the genre has evolved.