professornana (professornana) wrote,

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Picky, picky, picky

In an effort to write (without snark) about nonfiction and CCSS, I have been trolling the internets for some definitions and distinctions between and among types of nonfiction. I am comparing these with the definitions found in textbooks about children's and YA literature. Unsurprisingly, there are some differences (duh, knew there would be). This, though, is part of the problem, is it not, when it comes to CCSS? There needs to be some more consistency in defining literary nonfiction (as opposed to non-literary nonfiction, whatever that is). Here is something that will not go into the article I am drafting, though, that gave me pause:

"A memoir, on the other hand, is written by an author about their own life, but has more in common with narrative nonfiction than biography in terms of style. Instead of telling about the entire life of a person, the memoir tells only about a certain period of time or bout a certain story arc of the author's life. Many memoirs deal with depression, abuse, or drugs, or on the other end of the scale, extraordinary, life-changing events. They can also come from celebrities and famous figures, but these are generally limited to books that are ghostwritten by someone else. These books simply adopt the less formal style of the memoir for mass market appeal. Memoirs are more individualized in style and tone than autobiographies, with the latter being more creative and less formal."

Are we perhaps getting a tad too narrow in some of our definitions? I had never considered memoir and autobiography as being two separate and distinct genres/subgenres. Not all autobiographies tell of the entire life of the subject ("slice of life" autobiographies are not uncommon especially in books for younger readers; some folks write an autobiography and later write a second installment of sorts, for instance). Autobiographies deal with life-changing events be they positive or negative, right? But somehow memoirs are less "formal." I read that as almost saying less "worthy."

This is part of the problem, this parsing of terms to fit the model, in this case CCSS. This misuse of terminology (my favorite so far is "creative nonfiction" as opposed, I guess to the nonfiction that is not creative ) is deliberate, I think. We can use the term to insert what we think is best into the framework, lesson, etc. This then permits someone to come in and provide staff development on exactly what is meant, and therefore, needed. Or, it becomes the basis for a new list, a new PD book, or some other resource that basically recreates what is already available. What would be more helpful would be a clear definition and delineation of terms at the outset. Seems to me there is a great deal of "but what we really mean is this..." coming from the architects of the plan that is going to change education for the better.

Back now to the work at hand, drafting an article about nonfiction and its value and some resources for educators. I think this might be more helpful than making up some new terms or new definitions, right?
Tags: ccss, confusion, definitions, terminology
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