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412: The area code of creative nonfiction

Exploring where the line is drawn between fact and fiction, perception and reality, the 412 Creative Nonfiction Festival starts today in Pittsburgh and runs through Saturday. It is a “celebration of excellent writing,” according to the festival’s press release, and will bring together students, writing enthusiasts, and professional writers to discuss contemporary issues in the up-and-coming genre of creative nonfiction. Such issues as ethics in writing, giving poetry a mission, and publishing one’s work will be at the forefront of the festival.

“Pittsburgh is a great community for writers,” explained Jane Bernstein, associate professor of English at Carnegie Mellon, who will moderate a discussion panel at 412. “There’s a real appreciation for fiction and poetry in this city.” According to both budding and professional writers in the surrounding boroughs, Pittsburgh has a vibrant literary community, which could gain exposure and grounding through the popularity of the upcoming convention.

Moreover, “Pittsburgh is the birthplace of the current creative nonfiction movement,” said Faith Adiele, assistant professor of creative nonfiction writing at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, who will read her own work and will be a panelist discussing how to fund a writing career at the festival. “Lee Gutkind, the 412 Festival director, started the first graduate program in the genre, as well as the journal Creative Nonfiction, here. It has to be Pittsburgh.”

Exposing the prevalence of the genre will only happen, however, if the festival can draw in a diverse array of visitors and participants and explain to them the importance of the genre of creative nonfiction. Festival director Lee Gutkind wrote in an e-mail that creative nonfiction is “the fastest growing genre in the publishing and academic writing community.” While the studies of fiction and poetry have been traditionally examined in English classes worldwide, Bernstein added to Gutkind’s assertion by stating that creative nonfiction is “a healthier genre than fiction.” Creative nonfiction is grounded in reality and truth, as writers take real-life events and ideas and compose them in a creative, literary manner. Advanced cultural ideas can be approached by non-writers, exposing them to the new genre and forcing them to think about the relation of the writing to their own lives.

The festival offers a number of highlights. H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, will hold a discussion of his novel, followed by a screening of the movie version. There will be several free events, including a “literary marathon” to start the festival, a poetry reading with a mission to connect critical readers to adventurous writers, and a discussion called “Selling What You Write: Breaking into Freelancing,” which will offer tips to make a piece of writing (and a writer) successful. Hilary Masters, a well-known Carnegie Mellon professor of English and creative writing, will discuss the inner workings of memoir writing, and craft workshops focusing on specific aspects of writing will be offered.

Gutkind suggested that the discussions on ethics and morals in writing, which will ask questions about the appropriate and inappropriate use of facts and subjects in writing, will be the most interesting for those in attendance. He supposes that 25 to 35 percent of those attending the festival will be students from universities and colleges throughout Pittsburgh. Writing enthusiasts, and those students simply intrigued by the festival itself, will be able to talk with and learn from professionals, and will find others that share a belief in the importance of the written and spoken word.