Researching fiction (and creative non fiction)

Heard Tommy Zurhellen read from Nazareth, North Dakota tonight at the MU Gallery.  Funny guy, great voice, and lots of insight on writing. Students asked him about doing research to write fiction.  He said “absolutely” — you have to find your ideas somewhere.  And he drew a contrast between book research and on-the-ground research.  He likes the book research, and clearly knows his Bible inside and out because he is re-writing the New Testament, but he really values spending time in North Dakota, talking and eating with people, visiting all our strange museums and public monuments.  I did a project on Roger Maris and the Lost Boys of Sudan a while back, and loved hanging out at the Maris museum, poking around its memorabilia, taking photos and counting that as research, etc.. I do still need to visit his grave.

I know I encouraged people to talk to their “sponsors” as they work on literacy narratives; I should require re-reading those child hood books, or at least leafing through an important old novel. I think people would be surprised by the details they find, what Roland Barthes would call the “punctums” or stings they get from re-reading an important book and discovering its influences are deeper and wider than imagined.  I’m guilty of working from memory on my own narrative right now, although it is drawn from very recent experiences in the world, with my Somali friends. I need to talk to them more about their literacy acquisition–as soon as their English gets to the point where we can have that conversation.




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