LITR 5831 World / Multicultural Literature:
American Immigrant

Student Presentation Assignment

Fiction-Nonfiction dialogue

(2 students share leadership)

thanks to

Fiction-Nonfiction dialogue is a cooperative student presentation premised on Literary Objective 7. To distinguish fictional and nonfictional modes of the immigrant narrative.

7a. How can we tell when we're reading fiction or nonfiction? What “markers” or signs of difference both in and outside the text alert the reader that the narrative is either fictional or non-fictional? Are these signs always accurate?

7b. How do narrative, viewpoint, characterization, and setting change from fiction to nonfiction, or vice-versa?

7c. How much may these two genres cross? (Genre-bending, Creative Nonfiction.)

This presentation's spirit is summarized in the word “Genre-bending.” As with “gender-bending,” presenters and students learn from seeing how supposedly fixed categories or genres like fiction and nonfiction can overlap, blur, or share features—perhaps most importantly for literary representation or mimesis, what is supposedly “actual” and what is supposedly “imaginary” become productively entangled. Such insights may be frustrating and liberating, critical but creative at once.

This assignment also takes advantage of recent critical and popular interests in creative nonfiction, a literary movement or style that combines fictional or poetic styles in memoir, reporting, the essay, etc.

In terms of student leadership and preparation, each Fiction-Nonfiction dialogue involves two student leaders. The subject matter involves one Fiction Text and one Nonfiction Text from the day's assigned readings.

Two student leaders:

Fiction Reader (responsible for finding fictional features in one or more fictional and nonfictional texts assigned for day)

Nonfiction Reader (responsible for finding nonfictional features in one or more fictional and nonfictional texts assigned for day)

Here is a suggested order of presentation. By mutual agreement, participants may reverse or otherwise change the order or improvise.

Fiction-Nonfiction dialogues—suggested order of presentation

1. Fiction Reader explains how and why the Fiction Text may be identified as fictional, highlighting passages, defining or summarizing fiction-markers, and identifying some of the pleasures fiction provides. (2-4 passages, 3-5 minutes)

2. Nonfiction Reader responds by identifying elements or conventions of the Fiction Text that may also appear to be Nonfiction. (1-3 passages, 1-3 minutes)

> Seminar discussion of fictional and nonfictional elements of the Fiction Text.

3. Nonfiction Reader turns to Nonfiction Text, explaining how and why it may be identified as nonfiction, highlighting passages, defining or summarizing nonfiction-markers, and identifying some of the pleasures nonfiction provides. (2-4 passages, 3-5 minutes)

4. The Fiction Reader responds by pointing out elements of the Nonfiction Text that may also appear to be fiction. (1-3 passages, 1-3 minutes)

> Seminar discussion of nonfictional and fictional elements of the Nonfiction Text.

Fiction Reader and Nonfiction Reader are welcome to consult and prepare together as much as they like beforehand, or they may just show up prepared with their own materials and react to each other. Also, any presenters (whether of poetry or fiction-nonfiction dialogues) are invited to consult with the instructor beforehand.

Presenters may seek input from other students or instructor at any time. "Help!" is an acceptable contribution.

Ambiguous conclusions aren't wrong as long as the terms of ambiguity are clear.

Students are welcome to suggest or model revisions or refinements to this assignment.

Larger theoretical questions and learning purposes:

Anyone can comprehend the pleasure of subverting or transgressing boundaries, whether in gender or genre, but what do we learn about language or writing generally from the mixing of fiction and nonfiction? Regardless of factuality or fictionality, may both genres be forms of mimesis; that is, neither genre is reality but an imitation or enhancement of reality, though still distinct in degree?

What borders or interfaces can be identified between fiction and nonfiction?

What conventions, qualities, or elements may be allocated more or less absolutely to fiction or nonfiction.

(Instructor will develop webpage to record possibilities.)

Relevance to American Immigrant Literature:

Are the social borders of assimilation, acculturation, or multiculturalism that separate ethnic cultures comparable to the formal boundaries between fiction and nonfiction? 


thanks to

Rene Magritte, La trahison des images (1928-29)
(The Treachery of Images)


Notes on FNF Dialogues, summer 2016

Tuesday, 7 June 2016: reading assignment: Anzia Yezierska, “Soap and Water”; Nicholasa Mohr, “The English Lesson” (IA 21-34); Anchee Min, from The Cooked Seed (IV2 193-215)

fiction-nonfiction dialogue: Umaymah Shahid (fiction); Jessica Myers (nonfiction)

Fiction, "Soap & Water": internal voice; no name for narrator-character; reads like a story; figurative language

paragraph 14: dramatic turn, rush of emotion, heightened language

Nonfiction, "Soap & Water" details (realism)

paragraphs 9, 10, 11:insertion of reality, plus or minus hyperbole

dialogue as element of fiction, but very limited in S&W, much more narration, plus plenty of dialogue in Cooked Seed

Nonfiction, from The Cooked Seed: p. 195 luxurious detail + surprising reaction

narrator's takeaway from conversation with Takisha is unpredictable; not confined by immigrant narrative

possible element of fiction: How could she remember dialogue spoken before she knew English?

humor 203


instructor suggests p. 196 as nonfiction, when Takisha enters and is described as heroic black figure, but then is also described as crippled; fiction writer would have stopped at heroic blackness

episode where narrator leaves Kate also feels nonfiction b/c of lack of internality in decision

Monday, 13 June 2016: reading assignments: Toni Cade Bambara, “The Lesson” (IA 145-152); Alice Walker, “Elethia” (IA 307-309); Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, The African; Dr. Rose Ihedigbo, from Sandals in the Snow (IV2 149-172)

Fiction-Nonfiction dialogue: Brittney Wilson (fiction); instructor (nonfiction)

Equiano notes: 1.5 Our land is uncommonly rich and fruitful [nonfiction reconstructed beyond memory]

2.23 brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died, thus falling victims to the improvident avarice [greed], as I may call it, of their purchasers. (nonfiction: editorializing, commentary)

2.25 Every circumstance I met with served only to render my state more painful, and heighten my apprehensions, and my opinion of the cruelty of the whites. (nonfiction: contradiction or complexity of attitude; cf. 4.1)

[4.1]  . . . I have often reflected with surprise that I never felt half the alarm at any of the numerous dangers I have been in, that I was filled with at the first sight of the Europeans . . . . That fear, however, which was the effect of my ignorance, wore away as I began to know them. I could now speak English tolerably well, and I perfectly understood every thing that was said. I now not only felt myself quite easy with these new countrymen, but relished their society and manners. I no longer looked upon them as spirits, but as men superior to us; and therefore I had the stronger desire to resemble them; to imbibe their spirit, and imitate their manners (change not dramatized but reported)

Toni Cade Bambara, "The Lesson"  148 [teacher talk]         (realistic detail, nonfiction)

149 I kinda hang back . . . I feel funny, shame. But what I got to be shamed about? Got as much right to go in as anybody. . . Sugar . . . hangs back too (internality)

151 Sugar: "not much of a democracy if you ask me. Equal chance to pursue happiness means an equal crack at the dought"   (nonfiction, essayistic commentary, but fiction b/c put in mouth of character)

Dr. Rose Ihedigbo, from Sandals in the Snow (IV2 149-172) 152 sofa, evening television network lineup . . . Spray-painting machine  [nonfiction b/c shared reality beyond text]

155 lost bike  fnf (contingency)

NFL fame James enjoys today (reference to shared reality beyond text)

158 backyard sports legend > fiction

160 Missing elements were fear and accountability  (editorializing, commentary; values named rather than evoked, ergo nonfiction)

165 letter written to Onyii (Debbie) [focus on Onyii-Debbie; divided self, lack of voice > 167] potential for interiority of fiction

168 Family station wagon, First Baptist Church (realistic details)

169 Grandma relieves herself (reality effect, unpredictability, beyond formulas of fiction, but maybe like family legend)

discussion: Rose tells story from third person, giving more factual or objective perspective; Anchee Min's memoir seemed more like fiction b/c related more through consciousness of narrator-protagonist

Tuesday, 14 June 2016: East Asian Immigrant Literature  Sui Sin Far, "In the Land of the Free" (IA 3-11); Gish Jen, “In the American Society” (IA 158-171); J. Christine Moon, "'What Color would you Like, Ma'am?"'; Le Ly Hayslip, from Child of War, Woman of Peace (IV2 105-125)

Fiction-Nonfiction dialogue: Liz Davis (fiction); Hanna Mak (nonfiction)





Dr. White's notes:

Gish Jen, "In the American Society," 158-171: series of expanding scenes builds to climax, fiction plot dynamics (doesn't digress or editorialize as nonfiction might)

characters have fictional reality as representative types rather than independent figures existing beyond text; e.g. kitchen workers, guests at party

170 "never" x 5 (Lear) (allusion instead of direct reference to classic literature; non-fiction would instruct more directly) 

Le Ly Hayslip, from Child of War, Woman of Peace (IV2 105-125)

107 local Safeway (nonfiction; fiction wouldn't have said "local")

108 housewives and schoolgirls = sleaziest nightclubs (nonfiction: direct reporting + reference to shared reality outside text)

110 old reflexes > resale on black market; Stash, hoard, and survive (sounds somewhat like nonfiction editorializing, but more personal like fiction, almost like a physical rather than an intellectual response; cf. PTSD)

110 Never really hated American soldiers (fiction or nonfiction? limited flashback)

111 War guilt (cf. Jews in Holocaust, survivors’ guilt) (historical reference instead of allusion = nonfiction; shared reality beyond text or texts)

111 People can reason . . . but when condemned for their race, they react like cornered rats (editorializing > discursive writing)

113 How many lifetimes we villagers crammed into our first 20 years on earth (unpredictability of nonfiction)

115 instant gratification and miracle conveniences  discursive writing

unable to communicate with anyone in the ways I knew, felt like stone in bottom of sea (figurative speech--how different b/w fiction and nonfiction?)

war news from VN (historical reference beyond text, shared by readers)

116 [Baby Jessica!] (historical reference beyond text, shared by readers) (Jessica McClure)

118 episode omittable, reality pressure (nonfiction)

121 Vietnam Veterans; cf. Monkey Bridge; Ed’s sons [fiction dependent on family relation or courtship; memoir accepts contingency of relations]

See each other as people; cf. long-lost cousin (commentary instead of character development, direct representation)

J. Christine Moon, "'What Color would you Like, Ma'am?"

1 basketball and Play Station; late nights with friends and not thinking about anything else but having fun [fiction as universal references to shared reality that may become dated but more personal than history]

7 helping women soak their feet, turning on the back massager, stripping off their old nail polish with acetone. (realistic details)

13 As a doctor, he could medically help his family as well. His parents had gone without medical insurance for nearly twenty years. (reality effect, unpredictability, beyond formulas of fiction)