Sometimes, you’ve got to make stuff up to tell the truth.
Writers like Angel at the Fence’s Herman Rosenblat and A Million Little Pieces’s James Frey both got into Oprah-sized trouble when they went too far down that road and their holocaust and childhood memoirs were revealed as fakes, but journalist and novelist Stephen Kimber says they reveal the complicated landscape between fiction and non-fiction.
Kimber, the Rogers Communication Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, is going to be in Toronto on Jan. 29 and Ottawa on Feb. 2 to deliver his talk on the topic, “Truth, Lies and Non-Fiction,” as part of a Faculty Lecture Tour. He danced that line himself in Reparations, his novel about the forced closure of Halifax’s black community Africville and political corruption in 1960s Nova Scotia.
“I went to fiction because the stories I wanted to tell were stories I couldn’t tell in non-fiction,” he says. He had covered the events as a young reporter but, for legal reasons, couldn’t write a non-fictional account. There was much speculation about which characters matched to which real people, but Kimber kept tight-lipped.
“I started out with this real-life incident I wanted to write about, but couldn’t. It morphed into something entirely different. It better conveyed the reality I wanted to convey, but it’s not true.”
He brings up Dave Eggers. His A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius is an autobiography, but the beast of a book is full of admittedly faulty memories and sections the author freely makes up. Eggers’s second book, What is the What, is a true biography of a Sudanese “Lost Boy,” but he called it fiction because he couldn’t confirm some of the details.
“That’s a pretty rigid line that he’s drawn,” Kimber says.
“It comes down to intent. Fiction writers have no obligation to truth, other than that for however long that you’re reading the book, it be believable.”
But he says non-fiction writers make a pact with the reader that the story will be as true as the writer can make it.
“When we read fiction, we’re looking for a kind of truth. When we read non-fiction, we expect that the facts are true, and it can be that much more powerful; that’s why people lie.”
For information on the talk, contact Rachel Pink at (902) 422-1271 ext 152, or email@example.com.
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