By Katie Tandy
For a city that's stranger than fiction -- and proudly so -- it's stranger still that fiction has largely eclipsed the celebration of creative non-fiction here in San Francisco.
StoryFarm -- a new literary cooperative aimed at cultivating community, wonderful wordsmiths, and "other interesting animals" -- is poised to change that.
Co-founded by Graham Gremore and Peg Alford Pursell, both long-time logophiles and veteran writers in their own right, StoryFarm aims to shift the city's spotlight onto a different kind of storytelling, one that is based entirely on truth.
Following a two-year incubating process which largely consisted of tumbling around Gremore's head, he finally approached Pursell with the idea last June, and StoryFarm officially launched at the Intersection of the Arts in early February. The event drew a sold-out crowd and a slew of top-notch writers/readers including Mother Jones human rights reporter Mac McClelland and two-time Pushcart Prize-winner Peter Orner.
Creative non-fiction sometimes feels like the ugly step-sister in the literary world; it can be considered too literal, too self-indulgent, too history-laden, too raw, too fetishizing of other cultures ... you get the idea.
In my fleeting youth, I was always more of a fiction-head, in fact I was drinking the Kool-Aid so deeply I even got a Master's in 20th Century Literature. I loved the soaring freedom I felt in reading fiction; its authors could write whatever they wanted, conjuring people, places, and things that were more brilliant, blinding, brutal, and bad-ass than anything I ever encountered in real life.
And then ever so slowly it dawned on me. Non-fiction was at the crux of it all. All fiction was ever trying to do was either cast a spell so strong you believed it was real, or cast a spell so strange you knew it wasn't. Fiction writers are some of the most powerful sorcerers, but I'm willing to argue that non-fiction writers are some of the finest storytellers out there.
"The Bay Area is filled with so many great literary programs, reading series, workshops, schools, but the one thing we noticed is so many of them focus on fiction -- non-fiction is the genre that Peg and I feel is under represented here," says Gremore.
Gremore and I discussed the beauty and courage of attaining a bird's eye-view, the achievement of writing something that is at once personal, but ultimately transcends the "I," offering the reader equal parts intimacy and insight into their own life experience.
"It's about finding a universal theme or commonality and that's no easy feat," he says.
The author also has to believe in the profundity of their own story, that it's powerful (or at least funny) enough to belong in the public sphere. "It's not a character in creative non-fiction, it's you talking, you are the character. I suppose for some writers it's more risky and exposed. You have to learn how to remove yourself, to take yourself out of the story while also remaining in the story, it's kind of a dance."
Learn more about upcoming events and classes at storyfarmsf.org.