What attracts you to the genre of creative non-fiction, and what challenges does it present?
The fundamental challenge of non-fiction is how to write well about things that have happened – which isn’t to say that non-fiction requires a dry, dreary recitation of “facts”. The things that attract me to non-fiction are probably similar to what any writer would say about their chosen field: it’s a chance to play with language, structure, and voice, but it’s also an opportunity to synthesise elements of criticism, journalism, memoir, poetry and more. I truly believe that non-fiction can be as rewarding to write, and to read, as fiction – indeed, I’ve never quite understood why the novel occupies top rung of the literary hierarchy when it’s the Johnny-come-lately of literary forms! Both poetry and essay writing pre-date the novel by a long way.
What role does creative non-fiction play in a postmodern and post-truth world, which is increasingly suspicious of objective reality and facts?
I’m very wary of this notion of “post-truth”, which seems to suggest that the news media, in particular, only grew biased within the past, say, five years, and that before this, everything we read in the press was transparently and objectively “true”. But news media has always served an ideological function, not least within capitalist economies that treat capitalism itself as an ideologically “neutral” means of organising society. As Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman pointed out almost 30 years ago in their book Manufacturing Consent, concentrated ownership, a profit-driven advertising model, and the reliance by journalists on PR, lobbyists, and government representatives all influence the kind of media that is produced, and that media is by no means objective, nor does it simply report on “facts”. Anyone who wants a basic reminder of the complicity of news media in supporting and manufacturing lies need only look at the column inches written in support of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. So, I tend to think that creative non-fiction (although I dislike this term “creative non-fiction” in general) can in fact get at truths, or versions of the truth, that can’t and won’t be produced within a mainstream model of news journalism.
In your career as a critic and essayist, what piece of creative non-fiction have you most enjoyed writing?
Being one of those writers who tends to find the actual process of writing pretty draining, this is a hard question to answer! But I did have fun with this essay called “Precinct” for Sydney Review of Books a few years ago. In a sense it’s a fairly bleak evocation of corporatised landscapes in outer-western Sydney, where I grew up, but a lot of it was done with found text appropriated from advertising copy, shareholder prospectuses, government reports and news headlines. Putting it all together was actually quite enjoyable.
Anwen Crawford is a Sydney-based writer and critic. She is the music critic for theMonthly, and her essays have appeared in publications including Best Australian Essays, the New Yorker, Meanjin and Sydney Review of Books. She was awarded the 2016-17 NSW Writer’s Fellowship and was the 2017-18 UTS Writer in Residence. Her book, Live Through This (2015), is published by Bloomsbury, and her second book of non-fiction, Kindred, is forthcoming from Giramondo.
Online: Creative Non-Fiction will take place online from 16 September to 1 November.