Last week I mentioned the controversy over Vivian Gornick’s recent revelation that she fabricated some sections of her memoir, Fierce Attachments. Today in Salon, Gornick explains her approach to creative nonfiction:
A memoir is a tale taken from life — that is, from actual, not imagined, occurrences — related by a first-person narrator who is undeniably the writer. Beyond these bare requirements, it has the same responsibility as the novel or the short story — to shape a piece of experience so that it moves from a tale of private interest to one with meaning for the disinterested reader. What actually happened is only raw material; what the writer makes of what happened is all that matters. As V.S. Pritchett said of the genre, “It’s all in the art, you get no credit for living.”….
To state the case briefly: memoirs belong to the category of literature, not of journalism. It is a misunderstanding to read a memoir as though the writer owes the reader the same record of literal accuracy that is owed in newspaper reporting or in literary journalism. What the memoirist owes the reader is the ability to persuade that the narrator is trying, as honestly as possible, to get to the bottom of the experience at hand….