Tuesday, January 26, 2010


How long ago was it? It can scare you when you try to estimate how many years have gone by. Maybe 20. No. Maybe more. Toni Morrison was teaching a course at Bard College, traveling the two-and-a-half hours once or twice a week from NYC. I drove the 45 minutes from my town located on the other side of the Hudson, because Ms. Morrison was going to end the semester by reading from her work and talking a bit, and the public was invited.

Aha. It must have been more than 20 years ago, because they actually thought it reasonable to hold the event in a smallish classroom. Students and visitors filled that room so tightly that I found myself inches from her left cheek, watching her profile as she spoke.

I discovered as she read from her novels that I could recite whole passages with her, under my breath. I'd read each book only once, but I knew whole sections by heart. The phrasing was so lovely, how else could the wording go?

In between readings, she spoke. I have no memory of what she talked about that night, except for one thing. She said that the line between fiction and nonfiction was a false boundary. Both could be creative, which placed them in the same camp. Of course! Once you hear it, you know it's true.

It's a wonderful concept, because it gives permission in both directions. It allows writers to tackle anything, labeling and limiting themselves less. And to those who want to stick with just one of the two genres, say nonfiction, it gives permission to write poetically and uniquely nevertheless, instead of thinking they're not allowed to go there.

I don't remember my ride home, but I'd like to think I sang a Toni Morrison book all the way, and maybe I did.


  1. ah yes, the line between fiction and non. and permission to cross it.

  2. Certainly agree! I think, thankfully, journalism is going more in the creative direction lately. The facts should still be accurate in nonfic, though. I can't tell you how many people have said "Oh, you write creative nonfiction? Does that mean you can make up some of it?"

  3. When you wrote the line: "The phrasing was so lovely, how else could the wording go?" I thought about how even phrases can have perfect pitch, a deliberate rhythm, and subtle shades of color, that, when beaded together like a beautiful necklace, seem to be heaven-sent.