“Wheels,” by Kwame Dawes
Yes, I have to say that the concept of ‘Non Fiction’ preceded by the adjective ‘Creative’ is for me hard to understand and interiorize. One week ago I was at my friend Alessandra’s for an exquisite dinner, and when I said I was getting in the game yet again as a student at the City University of Hong Kong, studying towards a MFA in Creative Writing, Creative Non Fiction section, suddenly her son, Marco, 10, said in a loud voice: “How is it possible? If it is ‘Non Fiction,’ it cannot be ‘Creative’.” I’d hug him because the voice of innocence, the mouth of babes, is always the smartest and the most appropriate one.
‘Non-Fiction’ is closely linked to the concept of ‘truth.’ It seems that if you write a Novel, so Fiction, you can invent. If you write Non-Fiction pieces, you have to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
There is a barrier that for me was a kind of obsession, something I didn’t fully grasp. If I write Non-Fiction pieces I have to take an oath, to sign and vow that I’m telling only the truth. But how can I am creative if obliged to follow the rigid and strict rail of truth? Yes, I can be imaginative, experimental, artistic in terms of craft, maybe, of structure, ok but is this enough? If I think of a ‘creative journalist’, for example, my opinion is instantly bad. I’d be suspicious of a creative reporter actually. So I was (I am) full of doubts.
Last summer, a lecture by Kwame Dawes struck me deeply. First of all, I have to say that his poems are splendid, terrific, linked with the themes of our everyday life, but strangely permeated by the supernatural as if the poet had the power not only to meditate and pray but also to prophesize. His performance was outstanding, one of the best act of presenting poems I’ve never seen. Kwame Dawes alternated readings with songs, or rather sometimes he sang his poems in a powerful and rich baritone, joyful or poignant according with the context. He is tall, of big proportion, volumetric and exceptionally enjoyable. So, as you can get, I was hit and also for this reason extremely receptive.
Ok, speaking then with us, an audience of attentive students, Kwame Dawes strongly refused the border between Fiction and Non-Fiction in literature (not in journalism, of course), saying that practically Non-Fiction doesn’t exist because there is always an author’s intellectual act, an intervention that is creative. There is always an invention, a manipulation of reality, or a transfiguration of the reality. So we cannot ask for ‘truth’, but the author’s truth that sometimes or often is highly divergent, just creative. I remember a question to Kwame Dawes from the audience: “And what about memoirs then?” and the response with which I totally agreed: “Memoirs are the proof that Non-Fiction doesn’t exist. Memoirs are nothing but Fiction, pure Fiction.”
“Why?” the same voice asked. “Think of your life,” Kwame Dawes answered. “Your life is boring, unexciting, a handful of peanuts. Days and months and years repetitive, tedious, not worthy of consideration. Two or three events interesting for a wide audience, maybe, in a whole life. So, when you write your memoirs are obliged to conceive and develop stories, to enrich the plot, to mark characters and facts and give your version of events. Thus you are inventing, manipulating, changing and reshaping the reality. It is Fiction, folks!” Actually Kwame Dawes used more colourful words and gestured meaningfully. And I applauded, because, finally, someone had the courage to say “the emperor was naked”.
After that performance, you understand that I categorized the Creative Non-Fiction in the shelf of “it is Fiction, folks” feeling more comfortable.
Then another doubt arose: “So, what is ‘truth’?” But this is another story.
In the meantime, can I humbling suggest you to read “Wheels” by Kwame Dawes? A powerful voice, direct, neither built nor affected, that speaks just to you. A great poet, an extraordinary character.