College celebrates creative nonfiction

By Lauren Kelly

Oct. 20 will mark the beginning of Columbia’s 8th annual Creative Nonfiction Week, a four-day literary festival that explores and celebrates the genre of creative nonfiction through lectures, panel discussions and readings.

The events are free and open to the public and will be held at Columbia’s Film Row Cinema on the eighth floor of the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., until Oct. 23.

Presented jointly by the English, Fiction Writing and Journalism departments of Columbia, the events will feature authors, as well as Columbia faculty and students, reading their work and discussing the art of writing.

“It’s a celebration of all the different kinds of creative nonfiction that are happening across the country and also at Columbia,” said Ken Daley, chair of the English Department.

Authors scheduled to appear include Jonathon Kozol, Philip Lopate, Abraham Bolden, Mark Harris and Julia Keller.

Lopate was the English Department’s first choice pick, said David Lazar, the head of this year’s planning committee. He is an award-winning essayist and film critic, as well as the editor of The Art of the Personal Essay, an anthology exploring essay writing.

“Lopate has been, to a large extent, responsible for the rise of interest in the personal essay in the United States over the past 25 years,” Lazar said.

Kristen Radtke, a senior in the creative nonfiction and magazine journalism programs, was chosen to participate in the student reading at the event. She said she thinks the writing form is often misunderstood, and Creative Nonfiction Week is a “great event that can really help inform people about a lesser-known genre.”

Although creative nonfiction has emerged recently as a major literary genre, Lazar said different forms of it have been around forever. He said people may be interested in it now for the similar reasons that draw them to reality TV.

“The pressing nature of the real is for some reason a great concern for all of us,” Lazar said. “Nonfiction brings that to the read. We want to hear the real voice of the writer, no matter what genre.”

Araceli Arroyo, a junior also participating in the student reading, focuses on writing personal essays as a creative nonfiction major.

Arroyo said she became interested in creative nonfiction after taking a workshop class through the English Department.

“I feel it is more flexible than a memoir piece because I not only have to examine the past, but I can explore the future of what I am writing,” Arroyo said. “I can play with time in a sense, and explore the self through a focused lens within a social context.”

As of this fall, Columbia offers a major in Creative Nonfiction through the English Department, which is a fully developed concentration with 52 credits, Lazar said.

Classes available in the major include Intro to Creative Nonfiction, three workshop courses, a form and theory class, nonfiction film and genre classes in memoir and diary writing. Any student can take Intro to Creative Nonfiction or the beginning workshop class.

“I hope Creative Nonfiction Week gains momentum year after year and people start looking forward to it,” Ken Daley said.

For more information about the upcoming events and authors appear, visit